11 May 2011 – Case study: Sydney’s RPAH Medical Centre has dramatically increased its NABERS zero star rating two years ago to four – delivering an overall 40 per cent reduction in energy use, a 20 per cent reduction in water consumption and cut annual carbon emissions by more than 50 tonnes.
This result was achieved following a review of the building’s airconditioning management system and a Sydney Water sponsored project.
Owned by Australian Unity Healthcare Property Trust and managed by Colliers International, the 1987 building in Newtown is one of the biggest medical centres in Australia. With a net lettable area of 7208 square metres and 95 per cent occupancy rate the five level building is classed under NABERS as a commercial building.
Following the 2008 audit of zero the combined operations team met to consider the challenge ahead and the cost of not immediately addressing the centre’s energy opportunities. The goal to save energy received further impetus in recent months with spiralling electricity costs, which in NSW are set to increase by 17 per cent on 1 July this year.
Chris Smith, head of healthcare and retirement property funds at Australian Unity Investments, appointed Greg Kardashian from Colliers International as on site project head and collectively the team looked at two specific opportunities to reduce the building’s energy issues.
What followed was a two year environmental efficiency project which aimed to analyse and assess base energy usage within the clinic and associated buildings, then determine meaningful ways of bringing energy use (and waste) under control rather than rip out existing infrastructure,
“We saw airconditioning in particular as a primary culprit and decided to take a closer look at usage both within the centre and in the car park,” said Mr Kardashian.
How the savings were achieved
Phase One – centre system monitoring
The primary issue identified in the centre itself was a lack of visibility of energy consumption breakdown and load profile. This was further hampered by the age of the building’s legacy management system, which was installed over 25 years ago when the building was built.
In 2008-9 the decision was made to install an EDGE Intelligent system (metering various loads) and a new EDGE Gold building management system (both systems supplied by EP&T Global) to monitor various equipment loads within the building and identify specific areas of inefficiency.
Unsurprisingly substantial base loads associated with airconditioning and lighting were identified as being used during the office after hours and weekend periods, something that the new intelligent monitoring system could now administer and curtail.
According to Mr Smith this also immediately delivered some tangible new benefits.
“The new system allows for real time individual tenancy tariff-based monitoring and invoicing, so all after hours costs are recouped and the building’s tenants know that they are only paying for exactly what they use.”
At the start of the EEP the building’s annual energy consumption was estimated at 1604 megawatt per hour equating to 1716 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide Equivalent (the internationally recognised measure of greenhouse emissions).
After just 12 months of commissioning the new monitoring and management system electricity consumption was reduced to 969 MW/h or 1037 tonnes of CO2-e. This is equivalent to a NABERS rating of four stars thanks to an energy consumption reduction of 40 per cent and 679 tonnes of CO2-e per year.
Reducing water consumption in partnership with Sydney Water
The RPAH Medical Centre has also been awarded NABERS 2.5 stars water rating for reducing its water consumption by 20 per cent. This project was initiated through a $20,000 grant from Sydney Water in 2008 which included the replacement of all toilets to dual flush and restricted taps on all hand basins.
Phase Two – car park energy reduction program
The centre’s three level car park supply and exhaust fans were in operation five days a week for approximately nine hours a day, equating to about an average 3800 kilowatts an hour of energy consumption a week. The question the team asked themselves was whether or not this was necessary.
During late 2010 by measuring and monitoring the levels of carbon monoxide in all three levels the team soon found their answer. Instead of having the supply and exhaust fans running on full steam all day it was determined that the speed of the fans could be safely and significantly reduced through a variable speed device system that still met the CO extraction needs within the car park. The project was completed and commissioned in March 2011
By controlling the speed of the car park fans electricity consumption at the centre’s car park dropped from 3988 KW/h of energy used per week in 2010 to 375 KW/h per week so far this year – a huge reduction of more than 90 per cent.
“At project close we estimate that the energy saving in the car park alone is worth around $30,000 a year in addition to the other benefits, notably reducing our carbon dioxide emissions by more than 30 tonnes per year,” said Mr Smith.
As well as the obvious environmental benefits, phase one of the EEP has helped collectively increase the RPAH Medical Centre’s NABERS energy compliance rating from zero to four in the project’s time span.
A further beneficial long term outcome according to the building’s owners is that this initiative is also helping increase the centre’s commercial value while “future-proofing” the building by attracting and retaining quality tenants.
“The results to date have provided our tenants with assurance and are worthy of reflection,” said Mr Smith. “While the project required some significant capital outlay, we envisage a return of investment within 18 months and thereafter further ongoing cost savings, all of which satisfies our investors.”
Future EEP Program initiatives will include a review of the building’s current lighting infrastructure. The program’s management team is now considering alternative, more efficient solutions to the lighting system, including a variable lighting system in areas where human traffic varies, such as all common areas and fire stairs.
“Whilst the RPAH Medical Centre achieved a significant benchmark we are not going to stop there,” said Mr Smith. “More can and will be done to further reduce the centre’s carbon footprint over the next two years and increase our NABERS rating further.”
“As well as the obvious environmental benefits, this project has helped increase our NABERS energy compliance from zero to four in the timespan of the project.”
(The Government Building Energy Efficiency Disclosure scheme was launched in November 2010 and makes it mandatory for commercial buildings of 2000 square metres or more to obtain a Building Energy Efficiency Certificate. Commercial building owners and operators now have 12 months to get their affairs in order or else face penalties of up to $110,000 and more for non-compliance).