Rockhurst University

Rockhurst University Utilizes Electric Submeters to Troubleshoot Energy Savings & Cut Costs

emon submeters at bill gates home

Automated Energy Management system uses electric submeters to identify building energy "hot spots" in opening salvo of broader energy initiative

Located in the heart of the cultural district in Kansas City, Missouri, Rockhurst University (RU) serves more than 3,000 students annually. Graduates of this highly rated coeducational Jesuit college serve throughout business and industry, but the most famous alumnus is probably “Norm” on television’s popular “Cheers” sitcom, actor George Wendt.

Since its founding in 1910, RU has experienced a number of upgrades to the physical plant. In the 1960s, for example, a single transformer with a 3000 Amp service was installed to serve nine of 20 buildings on RU’s 55-acre campus. However, with time, growth of the electrical load has stretched capacity to the limit, bringing challenges for lead electrician Bill Ringel and his five member energy management team.

In terms of saving energy and using it more efficiently, Ringel realized that RU couldn’t save what it didn’t measure, so as a first step RU electricians installed an individual meter in each building “to see what our dollar per square foot was, and then take our highest energy use buildings and try to troubleshoot where our problems are.”

Building Automation System

A few years ago, RU retrofitted a leading BACnet-based building automation system that provides a degree of control over the physical plant that they’ve never had before. On the system front end, a total of 15 E-Mon D-Mon Class 3000 submeters collect electrical data from various points around campus, communicating via Modbus protocol over 18/2 shielded cable to a host system interface control panel in each building. A fiberoptic backbone connects the buildings, each with an IP address, to the Automated Logic building automation system (BAS), allowing Ringel to monitor any building’s electrical usage from the Internet. The BAS allows the electricians to overlay and compare control system data with submeter data to isolate a problem as a heating issue, lighting, or other source as a first step to solving the problem.

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System Results

The strategy is starting to show results. For example, the 1800’ run from the transformer to the farthest building caused a 9-10% voltage drop that revealed the need for a utility upgrade. In another building, the dollar-per-square foot value was so far out of the norm that a red flag was immediately raised. Instead of $1.25-1.50 per sq ft, the figure was closer to $2.70, indicating the actual cost of running the main computer room and self-contained cooling systems. A third building revealed a problem that was later diagnosed to be an under-sized HVAC unit. Demand from other buildings that had tapped into the system caused the multi-stack unit’s compressors to fire simultaneously which, in turn, caused a massive energy spike that was captured by the E-Mon D-Mon submeter.

“So what we’re trying to do now,” says Ringel, “is time them out so they don’t all fire at once. We’ll let them run longer, and then if we need more demand out of another unit, then we’ll bring it on so we don’t get a high surge all at once.”

The school library is another case in point. “Right off the bat, we’re actually able to tell when the lights are being turned on and off in certain buildings by the amount of load,” says Ringel.

He noted that the E-Mon submetering system is also helping Rockhurst hold the line on rising utility rates. “This year we took a 7% increase and so, by putting the E-Mon D-Mon in, what we’re trying to do is shed 7% of our energy usage so we can at least stay even for this year. And then start cutting back even more,” said Ringel.

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Looking Forward

Ringel and his crew are on track with identifying and implementing a number of facility-wide upgrades that will dramatically improve their operational bottom line. Replacing all their incandescent bulbs campus wide, and swapping out their T8s with energy-efficient T12 fluorescent lighting, are only the tip of the iceberg. Additional E-Mon meters will be installed in dormitories, food services and other buildings to monitor their heating system, chillers, lighting panels and other parameters of interest.

“I’m excited about all this, because we’re very impressed with the product. We fought a hard fight against another meter,” Ringel admitted, “but I like the E-Mon D-Mon because I have a display that lets me see what’s going on. So I can walk up to every main panel and instantly see if I have a problem or not without having to drag the laptop everywhere I go.”

As a key element of Rockhurst University’s new energy initiatives, the E-Mon submetering system is “earning its spurs” by helping to reveal previously invisible savings opportunities. It will be interesting to check back with Bill in a year’s time to see what further progress Rockhurst has made, based on such positive indications early on.

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