Case Western Reserve University Harnesses IT to Go Green

Building Intelligence Quotient Key to Carbon Neutral Goal
Published 8-16-2010
  • Peter B. Lewis Building

    The Peter B. Lewis Building, designed by Frank Gehry, houses the School of Management and the Fowler Center for Sustainability Value. Faculty offices are located along the outside of the building, with gathering areas and classrooms in the middle. As a result, the building could be sub-metered to lower the overall energy load.

    Image courtesy of Case Western Reserve University.

  • Wolstein Research Building

    The Wolstein Research Building, built in 2003, is the most energy intensive building on campus in large part because it requires 100 percent exhausted air, but has no heat recovery system. Case Western has implemented a system to continuously monitor air quality and adjust air changes on demand.

    Image courtesy of Case Western Reserve University.

In July 2008, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) President Barbara Snyder joined more than 670 of her peers in signing the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment, affirming that the University will eventually become carbon neutral. A Climate Action Plan, due to be completed by the end of the year, will lay out how and when that goal will be achieved, but one thing is clear: Information technology will play a key role, specifically the use of Building Intelligence Quotient (BIQ).

“It’s all about understanding how people work in each building,” explains Colleen Nagy, director of CWRU’s Program Management Office.

Building owners, plant and facilities managers, and IT systems managers at CWRU are working in partnership with Cisco Systems to promote the concept of Connected Real Estate (CRE) – what Cisco calls “Smart Connected Community Solutions” – using technology to create smart buildings. For the pilot project, they selected three disparate buildings: Peter B. Lewis Building, a classroom and faculty office building designed by Frank Gehry in 2002; the Wolstein Research Building, a primary research building built in 2003; and Pierce Hall, a 1960s residence hall.

The goals of the project are to make the campus more green and generate energy savings for the University by:

  • Using the CRE Project as a means to educate the campus about CRE concepts and related industry trends and developments such as BIQ and Building Information Modeling (BIM).
  • Producing a financial cost modeling tool, specific to the University, that can be used to analyze other buildings and projects within its portfolio of buildings.
  • Examining overall carbon footprint at CWRU in a way that is measurable and can be validated by independent third parties using industry-accepted tools and methodologies.
  • Making the Peter B. Lewis academic building a showcase for connected real estate concepts, and determining what CRE resources could be used to help make it a LEED-EB certified building.

Creating the Network and Assessing the Buildings

The first step in creating this network of smart buildings is to make sure that all the buildings are linked with technology. Then everything inside the building that uses energy – from light switches to fume hoods to elevators – is assigned an IP address. This flexible communications infrastructure serves as a foundation for all other systems. The data converges in the areas of unified communications, physical security, and building technologies, and is ultimately used to determine what services can be provided to make the building operate more efficiently.

The benefits are almost limitless. Nagy gives as an example an idea presented by the University’s plant services director, Eugene Matthews, to link all the elevators in all the buildings to reduce the number operating at any one time. The University is charged a higher rate for electricity during peak demand, which can occur if many elevators are running at precisely the same time. Delaying an elevator run by a few seconds may lower the demand enough to drop the charge to a lower rate.

Cisco used a BIQ analysis, which was developed by the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), to capture analytics about each building. A team made up of building stakeholders and representatives from IT and facilities spent a couple of hours walking through each building gathering the answers to eight categories of questions about systems such as connectivity, back-up power, and facilities. Tabulation of those answers generated a BIQ:

  • Platinum Level (85-100 percent): Reserved for select building automation systems that rate high in intelligence and interoperability for world-class performance.
  • Gold Level (70-84 percent): Demonstrates leadership in building automation and practices and a commitment to continuous improvement and industry leadership.
  • Silver Level (51-69 percent): Demonstrates progress in achieving intelligent and interoperable benefits through current best practices in building automation.
  • 1-50 percent: Demonstrates movement beyond awareness and commitment to sound building automation interoperability to improve level of intelligence.

Pierce Hall, for example, got its lowest rating in degraded mode operation, which looks at the availability of backup power. Because the facility is made up of four separate residential buildings, all 50 years old, there is no backup power.

“If the lights are out, they’re out, and the students are sitting in the dark,” concedes Nagy.

The Wolstein Research Building, primarily a wet laboratory facility which operates 24/7, uses more energy than any other building on campus in large part because it requires 100 percent exhausted air, but the building has no heat recovery system.

One strategy that CWRU has implemented is the installation of Aircuity’s Optinet system in over 40 labs to better manage the air handling. This system continuously monitors air quality and cleanliness by measuring carbon dioxide, temperature, humidity, particulates, and total volatile organic compounds on a real-time basis.  Air changes are adjusted up or down on demand to maintain a safe working environment.  This is particularly beneficial on off hours when no one is occupying a given space and, therefore, the required air changes are lower.

Cisco also provided a “carbon calculator” to determine how much the University would have to invest in order to reduce its carbon footprint by a certain percentage, therefore providing a return on investment for administrators to consider.

Looking Ahead

The final step in the process was to measure the CRE concepts against the LEED requirements and determine which would offer the most effectiveness with the lowest investment.

“From there, Cisco created a technology road map for us,” says Nagy.

To better meter utilities, for example, Cisco recommended sub-metering the Peter B. Lewis Building. All faculty offices are located along the outside of the building, while classrooms and gathering spaces are in the middle. The building could be zoned for occupancy: Faculty offices are rarely used after 10 p.m., while students congregate in the classrooms and meeting spaces 24/7.

To address building security, Cisco recommended allowing energy management systems to come in through the campus computer network’s firewall, so the University can send data about building utilization back to the energy management companies.

Under communications, Cisco recommended integrating the current voice-over-Internet (VOIP) telephones, and linking them with the energy management systems.

In addition, the more than 4,000 phones on campus draw energy even though they’re not plugged into the wall. The network switches can send a signal out to all the phones to go into sleep mode at the end of the business day.

All three buildings received a low BIQ in the facility management applications category because of the University’s splintered help desk system, Nagy explained. CWRU operates three help desks: One each for IT, plant services, and housing. If a student has trouble connecting to the Internet from his dorm room, he has to call the IT help desk, but if he has trouble with one of the printers he calls a different IT help desk and if there is a problem with their room they call housing who may in turn call plant services.

“It can be very confusing to the student,” says Nagy. “Cisco recommended combining all three help desks.”

CWRU is now moving forward with the data that Cisco helped them obtain. The team has recommended that adding a business analyst into the process, which they realized would have been helpful as the data was being collected.

“We create a list of recommendations, then take those recommendations back to the stakeholders and say, is this feasible?” says Nagy. “If they say yes, then we need to decide if LEED certification is a goal for this building. We need to look at the carbon footprint because, in some year, we will have to be carbon neutral. And finally, we need to work with the budget office to create a cost model.”

Because the ultimate mission of CWRU is education, says Nagy, it is critical to make this data and its implications available to the campus through a high-visibility “sustainability dashboard,” a digital screen that tracks energy usage.

“We’re looking at creating a dashboard in the Peter B. Lewis Building to show how much energy is being used in that building,” she says. “We need to show that if someone would just turn out the lights or stop pressing the handicap button  to open the door, there’s a lot of energy that could be saved.”

By Lisa Wesel

This report is based on a presentation by Nagy at Tradeline’s 2010 Lean Processes for Capital Projects & Facilities Management conference.