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Michigan State UniversityMichigan State UniversityInfrastructure Planning and Facilities
Energy Transition Plan

MSU promotes energy initiatives


April 30, 2012

Effecting change

MSU has always been energy-conscious, but the Physical Plant* is going a step further by consolidating several new conservation efforts. The formation of the Energy and Environment department will help MSU meet Energy Transition Plan goals as well as strengthen a legacy of environmental awareness.

Lynda Boomer, energy and environmental engineer, has been working on energy initiatives with MSU for several years and is glad for the change. The new department will streamline efficiency to help meet the goals.

One key element of the new department is the energy educator program. The educators inform building occupants about better energy-use habits as well as make simple, beneficial adjustments in buildings’ mechanical rooms. There have already been significant reductions in both steam and electrical use for the six pilot buildings.

“What we’re trying to do is not mandate, but encourage people to turn it off if they are not using it,” Boomer explained. “We need the energy educators out on campus informing people what they can do and what their impact is.”

Energy educators work with student groups such as the U.S. Green Building Council chapter and the Sustainability Action Committee co-chaired by Professor Paulette Stenzel in the College of Business. The student groups birth ideas such as MSU’s participation in Campus Conservation Nationals. On campuses across the country, two or more residence halls compete over the course of a month to see which can lower its energy use the most. Bryan and Emmons halls are participating at MSU. (Their consumption is being tracked at

In addition to face-to-face involvement, the analytical side of the project is critical for measuring progress and ensuring results. Bill Lakos, energy analyst, explained, “I look at energy from both ends of the wire, from production to how it is used on campus.”

Lakos tracks data to identify areas for improvement and validate that conservation measures are effective. “We’re trying to see how changing one piece of the puzzle impacts the rest of the operation,” he said. Lakos is currently creating building profiles by determining the minimum amount of energy the buildings need to function and suggesting changes to attain that number.

The building profile system is an innovative approach Michigan State is using to determine which buildings offer the greatest opportunity for energy savings. Building profiling is the first step in a multi-step process Michigan State intends to apply to buildings across campus to increase energy efficiency. For more information on this process and how it is being implemented at Anthony Hall as part of the Better Buildings Challenge, click here.

Keeping things under control

Central Control, a portion of Building Services, is the hub for monitoring mechanical and electrical systems and equipment in buildings across campus. Boomer emphasized that it is the “heart and soul of [MSU’s] energy management.”

Stacy Nurenberg, Central Control supervisor, explained that each building on campus is set up with digital controllers that monitor heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting, and other systems. Each controller is able to turn functions on and off as well as report the status of how they are running.

Central Control manages and monitors MSU’s building automation system. The system allows employees to analyze the measurements and make adjustments remotely instead of having to send an employee to the building. It also allows scheduling of equipment such as ventilation systems, campus streetlights, absorbers in the regional chilled water plant, and steam to hot water exchangers that provide perimeter heat in buildings.

Nurenberg explained that Central Control’s main goal is to optimize energy use. Every semester the team reassesses when and where classes are held so that equipment will only run when the areas are occupied and will shut off at night and over weekends and holidays.

Before automation, the equipment was set on time clocks that were adjusted every four to six months. Now, Central Control is able to fine-tune schedules for efficiency every day. It receives requests from customers for after-hours activities and implements the changes if they are necessary. Nurenberg gave an example: “We schedule a fan for a classroom during daytime hours, but then you have events at night. So we will daily optimize that schedule for equipment based on what’s going on in the building.”

In addition, Commissioning Services uses data from Central Control to catch systems as they start to go out-of-alignment. Thanks to Central Control, anything off-kilter can be addressed and adjusted before it causes unnecessary energy waste.

Taking care of business

Commissioning Services, part of Building Services, works to ensure that campus buildings operate as efficiently as possible while meeting occupant needs. The crew measures how systems are functioning and identifies steps to optimize performance in existing buildings, new construction and major renovation projects.

“The main mission is to make sure all facilities on campus are designed, constructed and tested to meet the needs of the occupants,” said Engineer III/S Jason Vallance, head of Commissioning Services. “We ask ‘Can it be optimally maintained? Can it be verified later that it is performing where it should be? Was the best design used to facilitate energy savings?’”

Commissioning Services is involved from the pre-construction stages through the long-term future. Analysis and optimization occur before a structure is built and after it has been standing for years. Moving into the future, new or newly adjusted systems will be aggressively monitored in a process called “continuous commissioning” to ensure efficiency is sustained.

The process is composed of several phases. First, the crew gathers all documentation indicating how a structure was originally supposed to work and any changes made since construction. Next, the crew measures performance of mechanical systems and may adjust some settings while on site. Then, the numbers are analyzed to determine areas of opportunity.

Findings are categorized into two types of action items: maintenance-and-repair items and energy-conservation measures. Maintenance-and-repair items are in disrepair and need to be addressed to attain equipment longevity. Energy-conservation measures are new methods and technologies. These measures may involve upgrading equipment or replacing entire systems.

Commissioning Services works closely with other Physical Plant teams to achieve its goals. Employees connect with energy educators from the Energy and Environment department to get a sense of trouble spots in the building. Central Control remotely identifies warning signs in equipment that will need attention soon. The Energy Systems Mechanical Alterations and Improvements crew completes the physical work that Commissioning identifies.

The team has mapped out a plan to commission all major general-fund and athletics buildings and Residential and Hospitality Services facilities over the next several years. After the first 100 or so are done, a schedule will be established for continuous commissioning so that as systems start to deviate from optimal performance they can be addressed immediately.

Vallance emphasized that the crew is not just chasing energy savings, but providing healthy indoor environments for better productivity. “Our goal is to make it easier for the operators and occupants to maintain building systems and be productive in their workplaces, and energy savings will come along with that.”

Making it happen

HVAC services supervisor John Phillipich is head of the new Energy Systems Mechanical Alterations and Improvements crew. These employees do the physical work that Commissioning recommends.

The ESMAI crew performs maintenance and repair jobs as well as energy-conservation measures. One example would be changing a ventilation system that always circulates the same amount of air to a variable-air-volume system that measures carbon dioxide in the air and adjusts its output according to the number of occupants present. Instead of replacing just one motor or part, these technologies go a step above to attain optimal efficiency.

ESMAI contains several teams with different focus areas: a steam-trapping team, a vibration-analysis team, an HVAC-controls-installation team and HVAC mechanics. Phillipich assigns work orders to the specialized members or he might hire the appropriate crew within the Physical Plant. He explained, “If our own teams can’t perform the work, we will arrange with Central Control; other skilled trades crews such as Electrical, Steam, Sheet Metal; HVAC Services within Physical Plant; or outside contractors to do the work.”

At its core, the crew was formed to streamline efficiency. “At first, the work on one project was going to each individual shop that was affected,” Phillipich said. “With the long-term commitment to the University, it was best to bring all the different factions together into one crew so we had centralized reporting and centralized administration of the projects.”

Phillipich has heard positive feedback from the people who are on his crew and is looking forward to the sustainable results they will achieve. “As we go back through and put things back to their design, back to the proper function, we will find that we are going to reduce the energy costs.”

Taking strides to cleaner fuel

The Power and Water department pursues green initiatives by using renewable fuels, researching alternative energy and improving campus data collection.

The T.B. Simon Power Plant burns biomass as a step toward fewer emissions and cleaner air. Of the plant’s five boilers, one is a fluidized-bed boiler capable of burning renewable fuels. Bob Ellerhorst, director of utilities, and others worked for a year to expand the permit limiting biofuel volume. Now, the fluidized-bed boiler can burn 30 percent biofuel and the plant is even approved to introduce biomass to its pulverized coal boilers. In February 2012, the power plant engineers increased the amount of biofuel burned each day from 20 tons to 30 tons, working their way up to 60 a day.

The biofuel comes from collaboration with other Division and university departments. Plant waste collected by Landscape Services throughout the year is ground down into wood chips that feed the burners. The Kellogg Biological Station and the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences research switch grass as a renewable source to determine its yield per acre and its energy output. Once a year, the power plant receives a crop. In January, 10 tons out of the 30 tons daily of renewable energy was switch grass.

Another main initiative of the power plant employees is researching alternative energy sources, particularly wind. A year-long wind study in 2002 determined that MSU did not have the wind capacity to make a turbine profitable.

However, blade and gear technology have improved so much since then that the possibility is not out of reach. A team including Boomer and Bob Ellerhorst  is looking to see if wind energy is a feasible option for MSU. Currently, the team captures data with a ground-mounted instrument that measures wind velocity with radio waves. Working with employees in Planning, Design and Construction and Building Services– Maintenance Services, the team plans to install a meteorological tower in the future. The tower will measure the wind at the exact elevation of interest and hopefully indicate the presence of adequate wind to power a turbine.

Solar energy is also being explored as a potential energy source. There is already a 40-kW solar array on the roof of the MSU Surplus Store and Recycling Center that generates 8 percent of its electrical use on a good day. The generation is highest in the afternoon around 2 to 3 p.m., which is conveniently when the building’s usage is highest. Before implementing anything, researchers “need to figure out for campus as a whole where solar makes sense,” Boomer explained, whether that means over certain parking lots or on the roofs of certain buildings that do not get shadowed throughout the day.

Precise data collection is a third area of focus. The T.B. Simon Power Plant is the metering agency for MSU. Electrical Engineer Rick Johnson and Environmental and Utilities Analyst Amanda Groll manage the utility metering program for campus. The installation of more meters across campus helps Boomer and team pinpoint trouble spots and provides more data to determine trends. Scott Gardner, engineer IV– EAS, identifies locations in construction areas where steam meters can go and Johnson, along with Maintenance staff, installs the real-time smart meters.

To top it all off, T.B. Simon Power Plant engineers are turning the lens upon the power plant itself, striving to lower the energy that is required to generate energy. With a team focus on efficiency and dedication to new opportunities, the power plant will be a key factor in MSU achieving energy transition goals.

Green Issue 2012

*Prior to the creation of Infrastructure Planning and Facilities in January 2013, several IPF departments were a part of the now-dissolved MSU Physical Plant. Some historical articles on this website reference that former unit.