By Stacey Ayuthia, PE, LEED AP, Campus Utilities Practice Development Leader, NV5 Building, Energy & Science Division
Ideally, every utility system should have the flexibility to maintain a proper balance of utility operations and customers’ needs yet adapt to changing service parameters (e.g., energy price trends, renewable energy, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). Utility development must reflect the objectives of the owner, and operations must meet the needs and wants of the customer.
That’s why we at NV5 emphasize an integrated approach to utility master planning that incorporates technical, financial, political and environmental issues for development and operation over a specific planning horizon, typically five to 20 years.
The best way to develop an integrated utility master plan is through a collaborative, iterative phased process involving these distinct steps: Discover, Develop, Deliver.
Discover: Beyond Age & Capacity
In the context of utility master plans, the discover phase is not just a simple exercise of data collection and assimilation. It also involves an assessment of owner objectives and priorities, and an identification and evaluation of stakeholder views (external and internal), incorporating stakeholder concerns for utility development and operation.
Data collection goes beyond the age and capacity of existing equipment and associated infrastructure. It includes complementary issues such as utility service consumption records (purchased or produced on site), business objectives, capital resources, operating budgets, fuel/energy consumption and prices, utility condition and deferred maintenance, customer base growth forecast, regulatory and legislative initiatives, and local energy/utility market and service.
How does this relate to the previous paragraph? Are market-based factors assumed as part of “local energy/ utility market”?
Fuel price is an example of a market-based factor: Upward trends in fuel prices typically motivate the customer base to invest in measures to reduce consumption.
Subsequently, capital improvements to the utility may improve the efficiency of service production or provide flexibility to use alternate, less expensive fuel for more competitively priced utility service. Other factors may include regulatory initiatives reflecting political or societal concerns, most notably greenhouse gas emissions and renewable energy. In such instances, the utility must seek changes to its capacity configuration for greater efficiency of operations to reduce emissions or to realize service portfolio targets for fuel consumption and use of renewable sources.
The utility owner and engineering consultant should listen first to the needs and concerns of the customers and identified stakeholders. It is incumbent upon the utility owner and consultant to discuss these observations and determine how this assessment should affect the utility master plan.
Develop: Options & Opportunities
The development phase of the integrated master plan approach allows the consultant to closely examine information gathered in the discover phase and begin to formulate a plan.
This plan should first establish the base case of utility development featuring the existing utility configuration. This involves quantifying the technical requirements of capacity, service consumption patterns, and anticipated growth over the planning horizon using the configuration of the existing utility. The base case can then be refined and revised to incorporate alternate configurations
of the utility serving the same service consumption patterns and anticipated growth. Depending on project scope, typically three to five alternate configurations are prepared and presented.
These various configurations can show the effect of renewable energy use, transition to combined heat and power, or consider ancillary programs for energy conservation. Operation and performance of the base case and alternate cases should be presented in terms of annual operating expense, capital cost and resiliency. Other metrics, such as greenhouse gas emissions, may be requested by the owner.
Deliver: A Plan for Implementation
The deliver phase is more than just identifying a utility development approach. It is a business plan that outlines the costs, benefits and processes for implementation with the client and stakeholders in mind. Clients should understand that the utility configuration might not be what you initially thought you needed— it should be better. Consider the following example.
A comfortable learning environment and occupant satisfaction are priority factors for facility managers at universities and colleges such as Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing, Michigan.
To achieve its goals, MSU partnered with NV5 to develop a Power Plant Master Plan for the TB Simon Power Plant, which provides steam and electricity to the campus. A major premise of the master plan is the MSU Energy Transition Plan. The transition plan established specific campus goals to improve the environment, reduce campus energy use, decrease energy consumption via capital improvements, correct maintenance and repair deficiencies, and commission all existing buildings.
The objective of the Power Plant Master Plan was to determine the best path forward for the university to meet its power and heating needs for the next 20 years and beyond, with specific focus on a five-year viewpoint.
The study came at an especially critical point in the life of the power plant, as MSU had received its final shipment of coal before it transitioned to natural gas and as a critical facility was being built on campus.
A service consumption forecast was developed from historic energy data including fuel, steam, electricity (generated on site and purchased) and consumption profiles for anticipated campus growth. The base case forecast quantified the annual operating expense and cost of plant operations. The forecast determined that the plant had sufficient capacity to serve the anticipated loads over the planning horizon.
The project team then refined the base case forecast to provide a comparison of the base case with alternate plant configurations considering relevant factors such as fuel consumption and expense, effect on electric generation and electric expense, and greenhouse gas emissions. Per the direction of MSU, the project team reviewed
and distributed regional and central plant options for heating and power generation. In this instance, the plan confirmed that continuation of the central plant was the best solution for serving the existing and future heating and power requirements.
Through this planning process, the NV5 team worked with MSU to formulate a novel operating strategy made possible by the addition of a new 100-megawatt service connection to the local electric utility. The additional capacity of the service connection will allow a new dispatch sequence of existing plant equipment, shifting a combustion turbine with HRSG steam production from seasonal peak operation to year-round base load operation. This operating strategy can potentially save MSU over $1 million per year simply by changing when a particular piece of equipment operates.
Other study highlights included the ability to incorporate future renewal energy technologies and the integration of the potential loads resulting from moving toward an air-conditioned campus. In essence, the study provides a flexible framework for making decisions as energy drivers change.
To achieve a dynamic balance of utility development and service delivery, consider an integrated approach to utility master planning. Through this approach, you’ll have the tools necessary to develop a utility infrastructure that is resilient, flexible, efficient and sustainable AND to deliver responsive and cost- competitive service.
Stacey Ayuthia is a Practice Development Leader with NV5. She has a strong background in design, construction and commissioning of technically-complex facilities, providing engineering and construction management services to a wide variety of multinational clients throughout the U.S., as well as in Mexico and the United Kingdom. Stacey has a Master of Engineering, Professional Engineering Management degree from the University of Wisconsin and a Bachelor of Science in architectural engineering from the University of Kansas. She is a registered Professional Engineer, registered Mechanical Engineer in Wisconsin and Illinois and a USGBC LEED-accredited professional.