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UC Installs Ten ‘Smart Labs’; Expects 20%, 2-Year Electricity Drop

The University of California – Irvine expects to cut electricity use by 20 percent from 2010 to 2012, after installing ten “smart lab” systems that cut laboratories’ energy use by 50 percent compared to code.

Vice chancellor for administrative and business services Wendell Brase told Environmental Protection that until recently, most attempts to improve energy efficiency in laboratories have plateaued at about 25 percent better than code, so UCI set and met a goal of a 50 percent improvement.

The university says it expects to cut electricity use on its main campus by 40 percent by 2020 – twice the pledge it agreed to as a participants in the Obama administration’s Better Buildings Challenge.

The UCI systems focus on how buildings “breathe” – that is, the rate of fresh air exchange. In a typical lab, all internal air is discharged every six to ten minutes. Labs’ huge energy consumption, accounting for about two-thirds of the typical campus carbon foontprint, is due to the machinery needed to intake, heat, cool, humidify, dehumidify, filter, distribute and expel the air.

UCI’s Facilities Management and Environmental Health & Safety divisions integrated airflow systems with air quality and occupancy sensors so each lab would only exchange air as often as it truly needed. The systems report ongoing air quality data, which not only helps target energy reduction efforts, but can indicate safety issues such as leaks and chemical spills.

When these occur, the system can increase the lab’s ventilation rate and also text staff to come fix the problem.

At Sue & Bill Gross Hall, UCI built a smart laboratory from the start. It also retrofitted nine other buildings on campus with the system. It has three more such retrofitting projects in progress, for its Natural Sciences Unit I, McGaugh Hall and Frederick Reines Hall.

Last September the state of Alaska’s Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory announced it would combine Siemens’ Apogee building automation and laboratory control system with the OptiNet system from airside efficiency company Aircuity to reduce energy consumption while improving indoor environmental quality.

Air exchange systems are a major source of energy consumption at hospitals, as well. Texas Children’s Hospital has installed Aircuity’s ventilation efficiency system OptiNet in its Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute building.

The installation helped the building achieve silver-level LEED certification and the Silver Building Team Award from Building Design & Construction magazine. OptiNet will provide the hospital with projected annual energy savings of over $221,000, Aircuity says.

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