If you want to see one of the smartest buildings in the world, trek just north of Toronto to the Earth Rangers Centre for Sustainable Technology. The building has earned dual LEED designations and is a showcase of energy-saving and renewable technologies.
There’s 85-plus kw of solar, with 57.6 kw of panels in the parking lot on six trackers that move to collect power from the sun. There’s a geothermal ground-based heating and cooling system, automated lighting systems and a state-of-the-art energy monitoring and management system that works in conjunction with the building automation system.
Earth Rangers is a conservation organization for kids, but you won’t find any kids at its headquarters. The organization goes out to schools and other organizations to show young people the animals it houses at its center and teach them about ecology and protecting animal habitats. The 60,000-square-foot Earth Rangers Centre is the place where anyone interested in sustainable technology can feel like kids, by touring the facility and seeing its very cool green tech initiatives.
Schneider Electric regularly brings in visitors to see its Energy Management Information Systems (EMIS) including energy monitoring, management and building automation, starting with a lobby display of its StruxureWare Energy Operations software. Through charts and graphs, visitors can see the electricity use and demand, generation, water use, temperatures, humidity, carbon dioxide emissions, costs, system comparisons—and facility manager Andy Schonberger sometimes logs in to show them even more.
The Earth Rangers Centre was built in 2004 and received LEED Gold certification. Then when Schneider Electric installed its systems in 2008, some big energy savings began. The 58 kw on the solar trackers and another 28 kw on the aviary provide about 30 percent of the facility’s energy needs—and anther 80 kw is planned for the roof.
Since the installation of the EMIS suite, the center has trimmed its energy use by about 10 percent each year and saved about 130,000 kWh of electricity, enough to drive an electric car around the world 20 times. The center now uses 90 percent less energy than building of comparable size and is the highest-scoring certified LEED Platinum Existing Building (EB) in Canada. It uses about 9 kWh per square foot versus a 37 kWh/sf of a typical Canadian commercial building.
“It’s remarkable the savings they’ve achieved,” says Sera Moffatt, director, Marketing & Business Development, Services and Projects of Schneider Electric’s North America Operations, Canada, which also benefits by having its software tested by the center and Schonberger.
The Energy Operations software, for example, was piloted in North America at Earth Rangers, and the facility has been testing a new version that’s due out soon. “We’ve learned quite a bit about software configuration and software capabilities with Andy critiquing it,” says Moffatt.
Building Integration with Energy Management
The cloud-based StruxureWare Energy Operations shows the energy generation and consumption in a variety of formats. Schonberger and others at the center can see the information on charts and graphs and histories, the biggest energy users, energy costs, usage by time of day, and tailor the displays to what they want to see and track. They can use the software to identify and justify energy projects, see evidence of successful energy initiatives, and use it to support energy budgeting and accounting.
The software receives data from Schneider Electric’s ION Enterprise Power Management System and Andover Continuum Building Automation System, both of which send Excel-like .csv files to the cloud-based Energy Operations each hour. ION Enterprise monitors more than 300 different points of live data tracking in the building, from the groundwater, wastewater, building automation and solar arrays to the heaviest energy users. It doesn’t get as granular as circuit-level electric monitoring throughout the facility, though it does track the biggest users. For example, seven current transformers (CTs) measure wastewater treatment systems like aerating blowers, pumps and the main power supply.
ION communicates through BACnet protocol with the building automation System, which controls and operates 80 different subsystems. It automates the Carrier ground-source heat pump by looking at time of day, the load level of the building, temperature, zones, security, occupancy and demand limit.
The center is also load-shifting the ground-source heat pump at times via Time of Use pricing from the utility, which has saved $400 to $500 a month (Canadian). “The thermal mass of the building lets us ‘throttle’ it during the day, saving peak demand, and release that limit at night,” explains Schonberger. “We’re basically using the thermal storage of the building structure to do this. Control is through the building automation system, and I just keep an eye on the resultant energy use through Energy Operations.”
Earth Rangers has used the Schneider systems primarily for preventative maintenance and can see from the systems if equipment is working too hard or if CO2 levels, humidity levels and the such are in-line. With the cloud-based software, Schonberger found that the solar trackers weren’t producing as promised, due to some trees that partially shade some panels late in the day.
Staffers can also check on systems with their smart phones via QR codes throughout the building to get quick energy or system updates.
Lighting and Plug Loads
Schonberger sees by the Energy Operations software that he had more heating days in March than in the same month of the previous year and that lighting energy use is only about 6 percent of the load. Thanks to daylight harvesting and automated lighting control through daylight and occupancy sensing, it’s rare that lights even come on during the day in some areas of the facility, he says.
LED lights from Schneider’s Juno division and flat hallways lights from LG are helping to reduce the energy load as well.
Schonberger is starting to dig deeper, too, and recently identified plug loads as a growing concern, due to the proliferation of electronics and gadgets. “We haven’t quite used [the Energy Operations software] for a lot of tenant engagement yet, but we want to give warnings to staff if the building’s energy loads are high,” he says.
It will be tough to reach the center’s goal of net zero. “We’re at the point now where we’re trying to completely black out building when it’s armed, to kill a 2 kw at night,” he says.
Data Center Savings
In the data center, Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology allows some staff to work from home and is estimated to help eliminate over 23 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year since 2009. The switching and networking infrastructure may soon be upgraded to Cisco systems so Schonberger can see what printers and other devices are consuming.
He also aims to cut cooling energy in the data center from 50,000 to 60,000 kWh a year to 20,000 to 30,000 kWh a year. Schonberger says this is possible by using the glycol in the air conditioner to be cooled via outdoor air on the roof rather than with the air conditioning fan and utilizing the cool portion of the geothermal loops to deliver coolness and remove heat. This will require some bigger pumps and three-way valves, but the savings will be significant.
Earth Tubes Are Cool
One low-tech but effective solution is the displacement ventilation system that circulates air through diffusers near the floor and displaces existing air through return ducts near the ceiling. Underground tunnels called earth tubes—the largest installation of earth tubes in North America—temper the fresh air entering the system and uses the constant temperature of the earth for heating and cooling purposes, making them the single largest energy saver in the building. Earth Tubes can warm winter air by as much as 20°C and cool summer air by 10°C.
There are also EV chargers in the parking lot, a green roof, and the onsite water treatment facility. We can go on and on about the green tech in the Earth Rangers Centre, but it’s best to see for yourself at the center’s detailed web site, where you’ll find more pics and videos as well.