Campus Community

Energy Detectives

Written by David Brugman, Facilities Services

July 15, 2013

Seattle U fountain with Admin building in background

Pat Baldwin-McCurdy and John Schrader of Facilities uncover and eliminate hidden energy waste on campus.

Meet Pat Baldwin-McCurdy, left, and John Schrader, right, SU's Energy Detectives. Sure, they may look like ordinary building controls technicians, but behind these friendly smiles are two of the toughest energy crime fighters you'll ever meet.

Their mission: to uncover and eliminate hidden energy waste on campus.   To do this, they combine high-technology with good old-fashioned know-how.

The following is a case in point.

The case of the ravenous reheat units

It is a quiet morning at the SU building control headquarters. Pat and John are sipping coffee as they scan the latest energy data flashing across the large monitors of their state-of-the-art energy management system. Suddenly, Pat drops his coffee in mid-sip and stares wide-eyed at the screen.

pie chart showing the distribution of energy consumption at the Fitness Center: Air handler (16%), Heating units (40%), Lighting and Plug Loads (44%)

What he sees is a graphic revealing extreme energy use at the Fitness Center-conspicuous energy consumption of criminal proportions! Pat and John are on the case. After an initial investigation, they detect suspicious energy behavior in the heating and cooling system (HVAC). This must be the culprit. 

They click on a graphic to zoom-in on the crime scene. What they see is shocking. The HVAC reheat units are running amok, devouring 40 percent of building's electricity use (see Exhibit A, left). 

In a "non-corrupt" HVAC system, most of the energy is used by the air handler to heat or cool air and distribute it throughout the building. The reheat units-located in each room-should then use only a small amount of additional energy to "fine-tune" the air temperature.  But the opposite was happening here. These ravenous reheat units must be brought to justice.

But how?

line chart showing an overall 40% drop in energy consumptionEnergy Detectives Pat and John are in hot pursuit (so to speak). They soon discover an error in the HVAC control code and take immediate action to reprogram it. The reheat units quickly surrender their excess energy use. The result: a 40 percent decrease in HVAC energy use (see Exhibit B, right).

Way to go guys!  Justice has been served and this case is closed. But Pat and John know there will be more energy crimes to solveā€¦more stories to tell. Until then, time for another cup of coffee.