Vol. 19   No. 3
July 2014
  • MGE Talks Business

In This Issue: Retrocommissioning project at UW Medical | East Washington corridor | Madison-Kipp cuts energy costs | MGE files rate changes for 2015 | New CNG station

Energy Trends

Retrocommissioning project a first for UW Medical Foundation

Retrocommissioning project a first for UW Medical Foundation

The facilities team at UW Medical Foundation used retrocommissioning to reduce annual operating expenses for the 1 S. Park St. medical clinic by more than $40,000.

Are high energy expenses the cost of running a medical clinic? That's the question Mary Evers Statz, Director of Facility Services for UW Medical Foundation, asked when she tallied up a $613,000 annual energy bill for the 1 S. Park St. medical clinic in 2012.

"I needed to know if the costs were logical or if we were missing savings opportunities," Evers Statz said. "This is our largest facility, and if we cut 10 to 20 percent of our annual energy expenses, that would make a huge difference."

To get an answer she turned to the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager®. "It's an online tool. You enter data about your facility and energy use and compare it to similar facilities," Evers Statz said. "Our building doesn't cleanly fit into the two closest categories—hospital or medical office building—but the data indicated that our energy use was higher than it should be."

A good candidate for retrocommissioning

Evers Statz decided to undertake a retrocommissioning project for 1 S. Park. Retrocommissioning is a comprehensive testing of a facility's energy systems to pinpoint and address problems. Focus on Energy had a retrocommissioning program that fit the Foundation's needs.

"Retrocommissioning can be valuable if a facility's footprint or use have changed over time, which was the case with 1 S. Park," said Jeff Reynolds, a senior account manager at MGE. "The building had an addition, an on-site cafeteria had been removed and more energy-intensive medical equipment had been added."

Evers Statz knew all recommended projects would have to balance energy efficiency with patient care. "It's tricky in the clinical setting because we have to ensure patient safety and comfort. I was curious to see what options we had."

The retrocommissioning process

Evers Statz and her team worked with Sustainable Engineering Group, one of Focus on Energy's local partners.

Their three-step process included:

1. Retrocommissioning Planning.

During this stage, MGE provided comprehensive utility bills that Sustainable Engineering used to benchmark 1 S. Park against peer buildings.

"The UW Medical Foundation facilities staff were instrumental," said Mike Barnett, PE, the Sustainable Engineering Group project manager. "They understand the nuances of this building and provided information that drove the success of this project."

2. Investigation.

Next up was thorough monitoring and testing of all equipment and development of a list of proposed projects. The list included 24 items; the Foundation chose to do nearly all of them.

3. Implementation.

Of the projects, the following were most critical in terms of energy savings.

Annual cost savings
Est. installed cost
Payback (years)
Modify air handler schedules
Replace rooftop unit control board
Schedule VAV boxes associated with air handling
Schedule surgery center VAV
Modify server room air conditioner setpoints
  • Modify air handler schedules. Determine the optimal time of day to start the air handling system based on the time of year. The system had used the same schedule year-round. This was an easy fix with virtually no expense.
  • Replace rooftop unit control board. A broken control board meant the air handling schedule wasn't followed and the unit ran constantly.
  • Set VAV boxes to reflect room needs. All variable air volume (VAV) boxes had delivered the precise temperature, humidity levels and sterility that surgery and MRI spaces demanded. Now each VAV box has been adjusted to reflect the demands of its respective space, e.g., office spaces are no longer set to meet the same standards as surgery.
  • Modify server room air conditioner setpoints. A 1,000-square-foot space houses the building's servers. It has two systems for temperature and humidity control. Analysis showed the systems were running simultaneously and fighting one another. "They were heating and cooling, humidifying and dehumidifying at the same time," Evers Statz said. Sustainable Engineering worked with the equipment manufacturer to tie the units together. They now run one at a time with the other unit available to kick in as conditions demand.

Exceptional program savings

The project is currently in the persistence phase. Sustainable Engineering re-evaluates the changes made during retrocommissioning to ensure all systems are running as recommended.

Annual energy savings from the updates are estimated at:

  • 627,000 kWh electricity.
  • 24,000 therms natural gas.
  • 1 million pounds of carbon dioxide eliminated.

"We've invested about $74,000 and have a $47,000 incentive from Focus on Energy based on our current energy savings," said Evers Statz. "I've been pleased and surprised at the level of savings. This is the first retrocommissioning project that we've done, and it could be a good fit for other facilities too."

Retrocommissioning works for newer buildings and equipment

"Retrocommissioning is a 'no brainer' in a lot of situations," Barnett said. "The economics are generally very good, and with the incentives currently available from Focus on Energy, the payback is often less than a year."

Even newer buildings can benefit. "Often, the building wasn't commissioned in the first place. So we go through and make sure all equipment is optimized," Barnett said. "Minor tweaks can often make a big difference. I'd recommend considering a retrocommissioning project every five years, and the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a great place to start."