Drive Down Energy Costs, Maximize Efficiency

Dec. 31, 2012
Airports are making an impact on energy bills and achieving favorable returns on investment by improving building system capabilities and performance

Airport operators have a lot on their plates these days, including finding ways to reduce costs while still meeting the needs of the traveling public for airports that are safe, secure, efficient, and comfortable. Many are facing the challenge by adopting high performance building technologies and practices, combined with intelligent services offerings, which enable them to control energy consumption and operating costs, shrink their environmental footprint, and meet airline passengers’ needs.

Airports are large consumers of energy, according to data provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and International Energy Agency (IEA). In fact, the IPCC says that airports account for 5 percent of annual energy use and a comparable percentage of greenhouse gas emissions for the entire air transportation sector, which also includes all of the aircraft fuel used each year. Airports consume more than 12 million tons of oil equivalents of energy each year, a number that the IEA expects to triple by 2050 as airports expand and their number grows.

Management teams at many airports are finding that they can have the greatest impact on energy bills and achieve the most favorable return on investment by improving the capabilities and performance of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC), lighting, water, and other building systems in terminals and other airport facilities.

Solutions Tailored For airports

It is a significant challenge to maintain a safe, healthy, and comfortable indoor environment in large buildings like airport terminals, which often include vast open spaces, long passageways, high ceilings, and large banks of windows.

Constant foot traffic allows unconditioned air to enter the building. Wide swings in occupancy occur within minutes as flights arrive and depart. A sudden change in weather or air traffic can cause unplanned flight delays and cancellations as well as overcrowded terminals for extended periods. Meanwhile, the airport itself has evolved from a utilitarian waiting room to a full-blown shopping, dining, and entertainment destination with its own set of requirements.

Regional and feeder airports are excellent candidates for implementation of high performance concepts. Utility costs usually account for a much higher percentage of total operating costs at smaller airports, so a boost in energy-efficiency and operational performance can have a dramatic impact on the profit-loss statement at a time when many smaller airports are striving to stay competitive.     

High performance buildings use proven technologies, practices, and service offerings to reduce energy use by 20-30 percent compared to conventional buildings, according to Energy Star and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). They also deliver operational benefits that go well beyond cost savings by providing a better, more efficient, and more comfortable environment for airline passengers, airport visitors, and employees.

Operated To Perform Within Set Standards 

In a high performance airport, the facilities team sets performance standards that are linked to the airport mission and most important operational, financial, and passenger-service objectives. Desired outcomes might be set for resource consumption, building system reliability and uptime, indoor air quality, or occupant comfort. The building is operated to perform within acceptable tolerances of these standards and outcomes.

For example, reliability standards could take the impact of an HVAC system failure and its disruption on normal operations into account. Comfort standards might consider the optimum temperature range to make waiting for a flight as pleasant as possible. Indoor air quality standards could be established to prevent odors from jet fuel, exhaust, or deicing agents from infiltrating the boarding areas. 

Recent expansion and renovation at the San Diego International Airport (SAN) included the use of commercial air handler units capable of moving a combined total of 434,000 cubic feet of air per minute (CFM). The units also use a catalytic air cleaning system to improve indoor air quality by controlling the infiltration airborne contaminants.

The new terminal at Poland’s Warsaw Chopin Airport includes large water cooled centrifugal chillers and a chiller plant control system that maintains indoor air quality for passengers and airport personnel. The control system provides centralized system operation supervision that can be accessed remotely. The new terminal features high performance infrastructure systems that are estimated during the first ten years of operation to save an amount of energy equivalent to that needed to supply a city of 11,000 inhabitants for a year.

Advanced Technologies And Practices 

Technology advancements and the ability to turn raw building system data into usable information have enabled a significant improvement in the way that airports are operated and maintained. For example, sophisticated sensors can detect conditions — occupancy levels, for example — in a boarding area and the advanced building automation system (BAS) can adjust temperature, humidity, lighting and other factors to maintain optimum conditions.

BAS technologies enable airport facilities professionals to automatically control mechanical and lighting systems throughout the airport and in multiple terminals from a central location. Predictive maintenance technologies continuously monitor the performance of mechanical systems to detect potential problems before they can cause system failures. Intelligent services combine technology, proprietary analytics, and human knowledge to continuously collect, interpret, and act on data from building equipment and controls to optimize building performance and respond quickly if problems occur.

Software solutions such as Tracer XT from Trane integrate data from standalone systems into a common interface with intuitive dashboards, customized for the specific needs of airport operators. The platform can be configured to provide a holistic view of critical systems such as HVAC, power, lighting, safety, and security to enable data-driven decision making and an enterprise-wide view.

With security the top transportation industry priority, high performance building solutions can be fully integrated with new and existing surveillance systems to help bolster and streamline the security check-in process.  

Achieving Superior Building Performance

High performance building and intelligent services options pay for themselves many times over during an airport terminal’s occupied life. Still, most operators will need to build a business case to launch a high performance building or intelligent services initiative by identifying how improving building performance will create economic value and help the organization achieve its primary passenger-service mission.

A critical systems audit (CSA) to assess current building system performance and create a baseline to estimate the financial benefit of improvements is a good place to start. Most organizations use a qualified energy engineer or energy services company (ESCO) to conduct their CSA and identify, prioritize, and implement energy conservation measures. 

About the Author

Neil Maldeis

Neil Maldeis, Professional Engineer and Association of Energy Engineers Certified Energy Manager, is energy solutions engineering leader for Trane, a leading global provider of indoor comfort systems and services and a brand of Ingersoll Rand. He is responsible for the technical development, support and review of performance-based contracting solutions and activities on a national basis. He has more than 30 years of experience as a mechanical/project engineer in the building construction and energy conservation fields