Scientific research labs represent a huge proportion of the energy demand of a university; frequently accounting for two-thirds of consumption by a campus. Although this makes them a priority for going greener initiatives, adopting the wrong approach can result in serious safety issues. Facing this conundrum, a group of engineers at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) developed an energy reduction model which is now referred to as Smart Labs.
A recipe to follow: Smart Labs Fundamentals
UCI's Smart Labs' implementation was conceived as a solution for reducing energy bills whilst simultaneously improving indoor environmental quality (IEQ) in the university's laboratory facilities, and has been documented to result in energy savings of 50 per cent (and above).
The methodology is predicated on seven essentials; namely
- Lower System Pressure Drop
- Demand Based Ventilation
- Dynamic, Digital Control Systems
- Fumehood Airflow Optimization
- Exhaust Fan Discharge Velocity Optimization
- Continuous commissioning with automatic cross functional platform fault detection; and
- Demand based, LED Lighting with controls
The implementation of these essentials is at the heart of how the Smart Labs approach reduces energy use so drastically whilst maintaining strict adherence to safety regulations.
Moreover, it can be implemented both in new buildings and by retrofitting existing facilities, and UCI has applied the design to 13 building across campus reducing energy use by an average 61 peer cent while providing a better environment for lab occupants.
Intelligent Ventilation at the Heart of it All
Given that six of the seven Smart Lab essentials pertain to ventilation systems and its controls, it is no surprise that Demand Control Ventilation is at the heart of the UCI project's success. Laboratories require 100 per cent air from outside, combined with a full changeover of internal air volume (typically required between 6 and 10 times every hour during normal operation). As such, a huge amount of energy is expended by laboratory ventilation systems in heating, cooling, humidifying, dehumidifying, filtering, distributing, supplying - and expelling, air.
It can be difficult to determine the proper air exchange rates in labs, especially given the need to balance costly air exchange with the need for a safe working environment for researchers. The reality is that setting a single air change rate to balance safety and energy consumption will not achieve either objective. Instead, ventilation should be matched to current needs through Demand Control Ventilation (DCV).
For this reason, the UCI engineers tasked with designing the Smart Labs approach focused on how to most efficiently and effectively control building ventilation. The resulting design utilizes DCV technology from Aircuity to generate energy savings of as much as 50 per cent whilst supplying key safety information about the building in the form of air quality data.
UCI went on to win the United States Department of Energy’s (DoE) "Better Building’s Challenge" with its Smart Labs project; with experts expecting the school to achieve 40 per cent energy savings on its main campus by 2020 – or approximately double the target outlined in the DOE's program objective.
In September 2016, the Department of Energy’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP) and the Better Buildings Challenge teamed up to launch the Smart Labs Accelerator. Through this program, labs in universities and other research settings across the country can become Smart Labs Accelerator Partners and commit to reducing energy use in labs by at least 20 per cent over the next decade.
Following UCI’s 7 Smart Lab Essentials recipe is clearly the best way for partners participating in this program to replicate (if not downright exceed), stated objectives; and Aircuity is proud to continue to support many of the participating university institutions by supplying the "brain" that run intelligent data reporting system.