AI managing university energy use

University of Otago energy and building controls manager Shane Jenkins in front of one of the...
University of Otago energy and building controls manager Shane Jenkins in front of one of the university’s large switchboards. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
In a bid to reduce building energy-related costs by 16%, the University of Otago has become the first university in the country to incorporate an artificial intelligence building analytics system into some of its main buildings.

The system operates one of the largest and most diverse building management systems in Australasia, with more than 60,000 individual control points and controllers in the larger facilities on campus.

University energy and building controls manager Shane Jenkins said the new system allowed him to spot any power spikes or anomalies in usage, and act quickly to reduce energy use.

"When things like computers, lights and heating aren’t in use, we can turn them off.

"But when we have high spikes like we do during the morning, for example, what we might do is turn off some of the hot-water cylinders around the space for up to an hour or the heating for about 10 minutes, so that people won’t actually notice the difference."

Mr Jenkins said the $1.2million project aimed to reduce building energy-related costs by about 16% and support the university’s sustainability goals.

"It’s not just about the money.

"What we want to do is make sure that our building stock is working as effectively and efficiently as possible and, as a result of that, we’ll save energy and we’ll reduce carbon emissions."

University buildings included in the Energy Efficiency Analytics programme were the Mellor Labs, Dental School, Information Services building, William James building, School of Business, St David 2 building and the Lindo Ferguson building.

"More buildings will be brought into the programme over time and the benefits for the university and the environment will continue to grow," Mr Jenkins said.

Project manager Ria van den Berg said Canadian energy management company CopperTree Analytics was chosen to supply the university’s data analytics solution.

The solution would also make it much easier for the university to gain insights into its buildings’ energy use, set targets for improvement, identify areas of focus and track progress and achievements, she said.

"This project has given university staff the power to increase energy efficiency through using building management and other systems information to create a tool to help the university save energy and reach its sustainability goals," Mrs van den Berg said.

Property services director Dean Macaulay said it was proving to be a highly successful project and the university was already seeing the benefits.

The project budget was $1.2million, but the total cost of the project was tracking under this figure at present, he said.

"Property services is committed to helping the university become a community and national leader in terms of energy efficiency and power saving."

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