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Ward Sheeder, director of TWU's physical plant, talks about some of the equipment keeping campus buildings cool. (Photo by Karen Garcia)

Central Plant keeps campus cool during energy conservation efforts

Twice last week, ERCOT (the Electric Reliability Council of Texas) asked residents and businesses to conserve electricity as triple-digit temperatures put record demand on the state’s power grid. Employees and students at Texas Woman’s University likely have not noticed a change in their building’s temperature, though, thanks to measures implemented through Facilities Management & Construction.

Central Plant Operations oversees and manages utilities production and distribution on TWU’s Denton campus. And while the Denton team often supports and can make adjustments at the Dallas and Houston campuses if needed, physical plant director Ward Sheeder says facilities staff at those centers maintain the buildings to better serve their needs.

Staff in Denton continually monitor boilers, chillers, cooling towers and building HVAC systems from the plant at the north end of campus. Rob Ramirez, chief facilities officer, said that, in light of ERCOT’s request, “we ensure that our chilled water loop is running at the appropriate temperature so we can reduce our chiller load in the afternoon by 1,500 tons, about a 35% reduction of our energy consumption.”

The chilled water loop is a system of underground pipes that carry chilled water to most of the buildings on campus. The chilled water is pumped into the buildings’ air conditioning units, then returns to the chiller plant to cool again and repeat the process.

The Central Plant houses four chillers designed to produce 5,500 tons of cooling. If one chiller goes offline, Sheeder noted, the system can still operate normally.

Ramirez said keeping the buildings cool is a major energy demand, adding that “when we are able to take chiller(s) offline, TWU is basically coasting on the water in the loop that has already been chilled. This can’t last indefinitely – just a few hours – but we have been able to get through these electrical conservation requests via this method.”

The university went through an extensive energy performance contract in 2001 and approximately two years ago launched a major LED light retrofit that was guaranteed to save 2.9M kWh per year. TWU also has long done building setbacks in which the temperature in buildings not in use after 5 or 6 p.m. is allowed to increase overnight before cooling begins the following morning.

“By taking action in the past and temporarily modifying our operations, we have been able to help in the electrical load-shedding endeavor without any major outages or campus rescheduling needs,” Ramirez said.

“TWU always strives for energy efficiency, and we’ve done a pretty good job of this,” he added.