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UVA's Building Efficiency Program

The UVA energy management team approached the Vice President for Management and Budget in 2007 with a request for approval of a pilot project and a line of credit to start an internal revolving fund to finance energy efficiency improvements on Grounds. In 2008, the administration agreed to provide the metered savings from the pilot project and a $1 million line of credit to the energy management team for this purpose. Projects are expected to pay for themselves through energy savings.

The UVA energy engineers began with “low hanging fruit”, projects that were fairly inexpensive and would yield quick and significant savings, seeding the fund for future projects. This strategy has been so successful that the Building Efficiency Program revolving fund rarely dipped into deficit, funding projects with savings on hand.

The Building Efficiency Program is central to helping UVA achieve several bold goals as part of its “Great and Good University” 2030 strategic plan. In addition to the Better Buildings Challenge commitment to reduce energy use by 20% over 10 years, the University has also committed to the Better Buildings Climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 50% by 2029 compared to a 2019 baseline. This commitment aligns with UVA’s sustainability goals of being carbon neutral by 2030 and fossil fuel-free by 2050.

Selecting Projects
Project selection begins with prioritization of the biggest energy consumers in UVA’s portfolio based on building level utility metering (using total kBtu and kBtu/sf metrics). The UVA energy engineers also align Building Efficiency Program projects with other projects such as a planned controls replacement or other upgrades.

Once a building is targeted, a Building Efficiency Program team is organized for the building. Each building’s team includes members of the Office for Sustainability, area maintenance staff, the building coordinator, and external support professionals with expertise in commissioning and HVAC testing and balancing. A UVA energy engineer engages occupants (see Outreach below) and performs an energy audit to determine which conservations measures will be most effective in the building. Most system improvements are completed in-house by UVA’s staff, which reduces costs and shortens timelines by reducing signatures and approvals required for permitting.

The UVA energy management team integrates many elements into Building Efficiency Program projects such as:

  • Retro-commissioning – Retro-commissioning air handlers and key equipment, testing and balancing, reducing air changes where feasible and replacing chilled water valves with pressure independent controls.
  • Relamping – Distinct from changing out fixtures, UVA has found excellent paybacks in replacing bulbs with higher efficiency version and screw-in LEDs.
  • Insulation and windows – Targeted improvements to building envelopes, installing insulation jackets for steam systems and repair of damaged/missing insulation throughout.
  • Optimizing control settings – Though Building Efficiency Program funds are not typically used to fund the switch from pneumatic to digital controls, the UVA energy engineers may partner with project planned through another university entity to provide additional funding that ensures a full-featured controls upgrade to a building. UVA energy engineers work with the Instrumentation and Controls team to ensure that all of the desired energy conservation measures are included in the initial project scope. The engineers provide technical support and commissioning of the improved system. The Associate Director for Sustainability Jesse Warren says, "Our biggest opportunity is the day we switch over from pneumatic to digital controls in a building. We can implement schedules, resets, variable speed control and other energy conservation measures that are invisible to the building occupants."

Funding Projects from the Building Efficiency Program Account
The UVA energy engineers selects, approves, and funds projects directly from the Building Efficiency Program revolving fund. This autonomy reduces administrative costs and total project time allowing the Facilities Management team to manage the financing for projects without burdening the specific department or individual building staff. In most cases, the energy engineers have data from previous projects which they can use to estimate savings for future projects.

Implementing Building Efficiency Program Projects
Building Efficiency Program projects typically cost between $100,000 and $600,000 and last no more than two years. One to two UVA energy engineers oversee the process to ensure work quality. All projects require the assistance of other mechanical trades. Larger projects will embed HVAC technicians, pipe fitters or electricians into the project team. UVA contracts out most re-lamping projects in order to complete the work as quickly as possible with minor interruption, often at night.

During retro-commissioning, UVA staff, including one or two controls and Testing and Balancing (TAB) technicians, support the testing and repair of building systems. UVA also has an instrumentation and controls team which consists of engineering technicians and controls technicians who complete upgrades to pneumatic and digital building controls and perform maintenance in-house. This team can also re-program or add points to existing building controls systems or install a new system.

Paying Back a Building Efficiency Program Loan
Once a project has progressed far enough to generate savings, the UVA energy engineers compares (non-weather normalized) post-retrofit energy use data to a set pre-project baseline to calculate the energy savings from each project on a monthly basis. Savings are then allocated to pay off the internal loan on the project. Savings are allocated until the loan has been paid at 125% of the original cost of the project. The additional 25% covers soft costs and seeding future projects. Once the project is paid off, the cost recovery is released and the building sees lower utility bills.

Attracting a Qualified Energy Management Staff
One side benefit of the Building Efficiency Program has been its appeal to qualified energy engineers. The revolving fund allows the energy engineers to be nimble and largely autonomous in their efforts to improve efficiency on grounds. This positive work environment attracts good staff. While many universities struggle to find and keep energy management professionals, losing well-qualified staff to the private sector and larger salaries, the Building Efficiency Program has helped to retain a strong energy management team at the university.

Working with Building Staff
Because the Building Efficiency Program team strives to engage occupants in sustainability, outreach is vital to its success. Every building has a Customer Service Representative at UVA. The representative is a member of the Facilities Management staff and serves as a liaison to the building occupants. Buildings also have a Facility Coordinator, typically part of an academic department’s staff, who deals with day-to-day building issues. The energy engineer(s) work with both the Customer Service Representative and the Facility Coordinator on each project to communicate to occupants over the course of an upgrade project.

Building Efficiency Program projects include a kick-off event, which may include a small or large group of building occupants and details on the scope and timeline for the project, the expected benefits for building occupants, and information about who to contact with questions or concerns. The conclusion of each project includes a celebration with food and drink, and visuals describing the work completed and energy savings achieved.

Facility Coordinators are particularly important to project success as they communicate directly with building occupants throughout the year and can act as the advocates for energy efficient behavior. The energy engineers engage Facility Coordinators at an annual event to provide information and resources on promoting energy efficiency in their buildings.

Additional outreach initiatives that have arisen out of the Office for Sustainability include energy efficiency signage (e.g. “Flip the Switch”; “Shut the Sash”), energy competitions between various buildings, and the Smart Labs program.

The University tracks the energy, carbon, and cost savings associated with all projects. The impact of the program is evaluated based on the reductions achieved. Building Efficiency Program strategy and analysis as well as metering monitoring is conducted monthly to track savings, validate, and assess building energy reduction.

UVA’s Building Efficiency Program has worked on 75 buildings over the past 8 years, investing approximately $2.5 million per year in energy efficiency projects. As a result, these buildings have avoided energy costs of $20.2 million over the past three years. Since its inception, UVA's Building Efficiency Program has saved UVA schools and units $70.6 million at cost of $29.3 million, resulting in $41.3 million net savings. In calendar year 2022 alone, these 75 buildins have avoided energy costs of $5.4 million. 

As the data show, Building Efficiency Program work yields a wide range of savings. Each project is a special case that takes into consideration the building type, typical occupant behaviors, type of system and age of building.