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Customer Story

The journey to energy efficiency at Griffith University in Australia

Students on campus
  • Challenge
    Gaining a big-picture assessment of energy usage at a university spread across many buildings and several campuses to improve efficiency and lower carbon footprint.
  • Solutions
    Energy metering with data capture sent to the PI System’s data historian. PI Vision provides visualization of critical data and notifies engineers of potential problems.
  • Benefits
    Lowering utility and maintenance costs while supporting commitment to sustainability. Data collection aligns with the teaching and academic goals of the university.

Griffith University’s journey with the PI System started with electrical metering, the “low- hanging fruit” of its digital transformation goal. The engineering department sought to enhance operations with better data management across the 130 buildings on five campuses: Gold Coast, Logan, Mt. Gravatt, Nathan, and South Bank.

Located in South East Queensland on the east coast of Australia, Griffith University, a public research institution offering more than 300 degrees, has a staff of 4,000 that serves 50,000 students. Brian Hobby, technical lead in IT and engineering, said that the use of the PI System began in 2014 in a bid to manage and understand the university’s energy usage and to align the university with its sustainability goals.

“The initial aim was to have an electric meter for every building that would give us a view of each building across the entire university so that we could say, how does the building perform from an electrical energy perspective?” Hobby said.

[Data collection] has allowed us to dig in-depth into building management, and we’ve been quite busy figuring out how to make improvements as well.
Brian Hobby
Technical Lead in IT and Engineering, Griffith University

Meters in every building

By February 2016, meters in every building provided information to the PI System’s data historian. Engineers dug into more uses for the PI System, including occupancy, space utilization, and utilities that impacted energy consumption like water usage and leak detection.

Engineers faced a challenge determining the efficiency of building and room usage; universities like Griffith are typically open campuses with no “badging in and out” that would help determine how many people were in a given room at a given time. Engineers wanted occupancy information from large lecture halls or auditoriums because they use the most energy. The team placed fish-eye ethernet cameras in these halls to gauge the flow of people in the room. When the cost of technology came down, they switched to more efficient Brickstream cameras, which count people coming in out of the doorways every five minutes, offering near real-time visibility.

“If you’ve got 200 people in a 1,000-seat theater, then you’re cooling the space for no reason, and you could put that course in a smaller space,” Hobby said. Findings from the data helped the university to match classes with more size- appropriate rooms, resulting in energy savings.

Efficiently managing campus cooling system

One surprising finding from the data provided through the PI System: engineers discovered a more effective way to configure the new Nathan chiller plant (the cooling system for the campus). Typically, they would put in one low chiller and multiple larger chillers. That was the standard approach. The new chiller house will have two small and two large chillers, resulting in reduced capital costs and reduced overall future energy costs. Located in the city of Brisbane, the campus has a high load in the summer months and has flat demand for the rest of the year. Because they had actual energy usage data, engineers were better able to assess the building’s equipment needs.

“This is the direct result of analyzing real data from our real systems over a long seasonal period of time and asking, what is the actual energy consumption of this plant?” Hobby said. “What do we actually need to make our campus work? The chiller numbers have literally directly impacted what chillers we get in the new chiller house.”

Because of data retrieved through the PI System, engineers were able to purchase chillers for Nathan campus based on actual need, not just past purchases.Because of data retrieved through the PI System, engineers were able to purchase chillers for Nathan campus based on actual need, not just past purchases.

Using the PI System also allowed the Griffith team to pull building management system (BMS) data directly into the PI System to track air handling units and maintenance work. Though the team is not yet employing condition-based maintenance (CBM), the team expects CBM is on the horizon. “[Data collection] has allowed us to dig in-depth into building management, and we’ve been quite busy figuring out how to make improvements as well,” Hobby said.

During the past year, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the entire campus, the engineering team put historical data to work, comparing data from prior years to find anomalies and fix any problems. Griffith University used Asset Framework templates extensively to arrange, manage, and commission data collection. Because chillers are especially high energy and water users, engineers turned to them first for inspection. This same approach was applied to gathering the whole of campus water utility data, which revealed a spike in water use. The culprit? Leaky toilet cistern valves. If left unfixed, the leaks would have added thousands of dollars to the next water bill.

The information gathered doesn’t just help with maintenance. It’s also teaching the next generation. One building on the Nathan campus contains the EcoCentre, where schoolchildren can see a PI Vision dashboard with charts showing how the building works, including energy generation from solar panels on the roof, energy exported out to the local grid, use of electric vehicle (EV) chargers located nearby, and the building’s current energy consumption. “A lot of data we’re collecting is being used both for teaching and helping on the academic side,” Hobby said.

Watch the full presentation for more information about Griffith University and the PI System.

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