Airport Sustainability Using Utilities Master Plans

Oct. 31, 2017

With an ongoing increase in air travel, the growth in the aviation industry necessitates periodic large-scale infrastructure updates in aging airports. Sustainability is an important factor to consider in planning as environmental regulations become more stringent and entities are held accountable for their carbon footprint and resource usage. A utilities master plan (UMP) allows airports to plan for - and then track – energy and water needs and usage, and document emissions for reporting agencies. With the rate of increase in technology for clean and low-cost energy options, a utilities master plan becomes an essential piece of infrastructure planning.

Large international airports, including George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Los Angeles International and San Francisco International Airport, are leading the industry in incorporating utility master plans into their long-range plans by realizing the importance of underground infrastructure as well as what is happening above the ground. The UMP forecasts utility demands with the projected growth pattern and prioritizes projects to coordinate with the airport’s larger construction goals and allows for inclusion in capital improvement programs. By having a robust utilities plan, developers can plan ahead and prevent service interruptions caused by insufficient utility systems.

Infrastructure firm HNTB Corporation uses a seven-step process for creating and optimizing UMPs for major airport projects:

1. Collect data

It is important to gather emissions and utilities data from the right sources and analyze it for accuracy and validity before applying it to the UMP. At this point, sustainability goals should be set according to past benchmarks and future objectives. Smart meters are necessary to accurately measure utility consumption by targeting areas of use and potential conservation. In an airport environment, smart meters can help determine if utilities are being charged appropriately, and it also allows the airport to report progress against measurable objectives.

2. Analyze demand

Using the data collected, future projected demand can be extrapolated based on past growth trends. These should be considered the minimum requirements for planning purposes.

3. Forecast future peak demand

A peak demand forecast adds a buffer to projected trends to account for additional potential growth outside of expected increases.

4. Identify greatest needs

An integral part of project success is incorporating a schedule that accounts for early implementation of the most pressing infrastructure needs. The airport can determine which utility improvements are imminent from a condition assessment and scheduling perspective.

5. Analyze alternatives

In designing the UMP, all viable alternatives should be explored prior to committing to the final design. Some technologies may be more appropriate to certain needs than others, or may be more cost effective due to the larger project design. Options may include solar farms, power shedding controls, recycled water strategies, optimum chiller operation, battery storage rebates, self-generation opportunities, including cogeneration systems, or thermal energy storage systems, which allow airports to purchase energy during off-peak hours and use chilled water storage during on-peak hours. In a strategic move, Los Angeles World Airports installed a 3-million-gallon tank at LAX after a feasibility analysis revealed simple payback on the thermal energy storage system was less than nine years.

6. Analyze financials

In addition to standard financial concerns, the return on investment should be assessed for each design option. As an example, LAX conducted a sustainable return on investment analysis for a replacement cogeneration system. Based on the current Los Angeles Department of Water and Power carbon dioxide emissions factor, the chosen cogeneration system resulted in 24 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than conventional equipment. Not only will LAX’s annual savings total approximately $2.5 million, but the cogeneration replacement system will reduce nitrogen oxide gases from 28 parts per million to 3 parts per million, a significant effect.

7. Recommend projects

An executive summary provides a comprehensive overview of options followed by professional recommendations based on the data and analysis. The project timeline can outline key objectives and prioritize them by demand and feasibility. Flexibility should also be built into the UMP to allow for changes in regulations and codes over the course of the project and to ensure its longevity.

Clearly, airports have two sets of assets: those above ground and those below ground. When airports plan expansions or improvements above ground, they do it holistically, considering the project from all perspectives. A UMP gives underground infrastructure the same holistic consideration. It can help an airport lay the framework for growth while simultaneously making a concerted effort to reach its sustainability goals faster.

James Grant, PE, ENV SP is the energy and fueling services group director for HNTB Corporation. He is one of HNTB’s national service leaders for mechanical engineering sustainability, working primarily in the areas of central utility plants, renewable energy systems, energy conservation and aviation fueling systems for both commercial and industrial facilities. Grant is also the author of the aviation chapter in, “Infrastructure Sustainability and Design,” the book used by the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Contact him at (425) 922-2449 or [email protected].