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NMSU partners with Ameresco for a comprehensive energy audit

Date: 07/01/2013

New Mexico State University has partnered with Ameresco, an energy service company, to conduct an investment grade audit of all NMSU facilities, with an eye toward making substantial improvements in energy and resource efficiency - and along with that, student and employee wellbeing.

This is one of the temperature logging devices Ameresco used to monitor conditions inside NMSU buildings.
This is one of the temperature logging devices Ameresco used to monitor conditions inside NMSU buildings. NMSU has partnered with Ameresco to do an investment grade audit of all NMSU facilities to find energy and resource efficiency opportunities.

Since early March, engineers from Ameresco have been travelling through the state, visiting buildings on all NMSU campuses and agricultural science centers, to evaluate every aspect of the buildings - from the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems, to the water use, occupancy rates and overall building envelopes - to determine what types of upgrades could save the state's land-grant university system resources and money.

When the audit is complete, the Ameresco team members will have visited more than 500 NMSU buildings.

You've probably seen some of the sensors the engineers temporarily installed to monitor occupancy or energy use, or maybe even met some of the engineers while they were in your building.

An investment grade audit is a comprehensive analysis of energy and resource efficiency improvements with a particular focus on financial considerations and return on investment. Ameresco partners with several financial institutions to fund and guarantee savings on energy upgrades.

"We choose the measures we design based on the return of the investment," said Bret Marozik, NMSU Ameresco project engineer. "Essentially, the projects are self-funding. We look at the savings that a number of measures would produce, and hopefully, that cash flow is positive every year, so that whatever money is spent on a measure, you're getting the benefit of that measure over the course of the project. It pays for itself."

Ameresco tries to structure all the financing so that there will be a positive cash flow every year.

"The side benefit," Marozik added, "is typically we've improved the environment, so employee wellbeing also is enhanced. That's part of the function of the energy service company - to improve facility operations and improve employee and student wellbeing."

The survey of each building starts with the engineering teams looking at the mechanical equipment, the HVAC system, the control system, boilers, system packaging on rooftops, air distribution systems and ductwork, lighting and water distribution - sinks, toilets, etc. The envelope of the building is carefully examined, with engineers noting the composition (concrete block, stucco, etc.) and the number, type and orientation of the windows. Information is meticulously documented, as the teams must create computer models of the buildings following the survey process in order to test energy saving theories.

"The building survey won't last much longer, but the survey of the buildings is the easy part," said Chelsea Wolfman, Ameresco engineering assistant. "After that, we have to start crunching all of the numbers. That's the tedious work."

Marozik credited NMSU's Facilities and Services for its extensive work at making energy efficient improvements such as the satellite chiller plant on the Las Cruces campus, which produces ice at night, when electricity is cheaper. This ice is stored in tanks and used to cool buildings on campus during the day.

"The satellite plant and other energy and resource-saving measures we've taken over the last couple of years have been so effective that Ameresco is having to work harder to find projects that will result in substantial savings or cost avoidance for the university," said Glen Haubold, assistant vice president for facilities.

In Ameresco's preliminary assessment of NMSU's buildings, their proposed improvements could result in greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to removing 4,755 passenger cars from the road each year, or removing carbon dioxide emissions from the energy use of 3,397 typical American homes for one year. The preliminary proposed improvements also are equivalent to the carbon reducing impact of 679,338 tree seedlings grown for 10 years.

Ameresco plans to present their final investment grade audit findings to NMSU decision makers sometime during the fall semester. Depending on the findings, improvements will begin sometime during the spring semester.

To learn more about Ameresco's work for higher education institutions, visit http://www.ameresco.com/customers/higher-education.

Written by Emily C. Kelley

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