Relieving Economic and Environmental Pressures with Energy Efficiency

Relieving Economic and Environmental Pressures with Energy Efficiency

By Scott Clark, PE, CEM, and Ed Mardiat, DBIA

As the airline industry struggles through the current economic downturn, airport directors face growing economic and environmental pressures. Energy costs rose 40 percent to 50 percent in the past decade, and the industry faces growing scrutiny over its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

But airports around the country are taking steps to improve their energy efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts of their facilities and systems. The Burns & McDonnell OnSite Energy & Power group works with airports around the country to optimize operations and reduce GHG production.

Case Study: Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport

A $2.6 billion capital development plan approved in 1998 added a 1.9 million-square-foot international terminal, an automated people mover and a Grand Hyatt hotel to the DFW complex. Utility deregulation followed, and environmental rules initiated in 2001 required a 70 percent reduction in nitrous oxide emissions.

To handle the impacts of these events, DFW expanded and upgraded its central utility plant and chilled water system. Implementation of a thermal energy storage system enabled DFW to increase efficiency of cooling operations and cut costs. This initial focus on energy efficiency to counter rising energy costs also led to implementation of a Continuous Commissioning® (CC®) program. By using the building control system to monitor key points where inefficiencies can develop, optimum operational efficiency is maintained.

“We initiated a CC® program in 2004 to improve the energy performance of our airport facilities. The CC® process is designed to optimize the performance of existing equipment, requiring little, if any, capital investment. The majority of the work involves testing and recalibrating sensors, reprogramming building automation systems to reflect operational and seasonal changes, and optimizing the HVAC system’s sequence of operation,” says Jerry Dennis, energy manager at DFW. “To date we have commissioned six facilities and generated over $6 million in energy savings. As a result of these activities, DFW Airport has received the 2005 Star of Energy Efficiency award from the Alliance to Save Energy and the 2010 National Energy Project of the Year award from the Association of Energy Engineers.”

Case Study: Denver International Airport

As airport officials considered a terminal expansion that included a new airport hotel, they planned to add a new chiller plant to accommodate the additional load. Burns & McDonnell prepared a master plan and evaluated the efficiency level of the airport’s existing system. That study determined that by optimizing the operations of the existing chilled water equipment, more than 200 pumps could be eliminated from the design. Only one small chiller will be added to meet load requirements for the expansion. The project’s estimated payback is less than three years.

Case Study: Port Columbus International Airport

A comprehensive energy management program is in place to help the Columbus Regional Airport Authority reap nearly $600,000 in annual energy savings — totaling $7 million over the next 10 years. A high-efficiency boiler system was combined with a range of energy conservation measures identified by the Burns & McDonnell Energy Services Group. To relieve HVAC loads, the Flight Information Display System is tied to the building automation control systems, automatically curbing HVAC loads to areas of the terminal as flight frequency declines overnight.

Option for Efficiency

In the digital age, airports are increasingly dependent upon electricity. All have backup diesel engine generators for the control tower and life safety features, but if grid power fails, operations cease.

Energy is an airport's second-largest expense — second only to staff compensation — so increasing energy efficiency and improving reliability with an on-site combined heat and power (CHP) system is gaining interest from local, state and federal agencies.

Los Angeles International Airport, for example, is planning to install two 4.3-megawatt combustion turbine generators. Exhaust will be used to produce steam to drive steam turbine chillers for terminal cooling or to power a steam turbine generator to provide power to meet critical airport loads. The CHP system will have efficiencies greater than 75 percent compared to a typical central plant fed from the grid.

The U.S. Department of Energy considers CHP "one of the most promising options in the U.S. energy efficiency portfolio" because of its low greenhouse gas emissions, high efficiency, potential for nationwide implementation and ability to relieve increasing demand on the grid. 

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