Coast College District and SmartWatt: Lessons in Building Automation Systems

Whether operating a single red brick school building or a sprawling university campus, education institutions consume a significant amount of energy. Due to a lack of financing, bureaucratic red tape, or a combination of the two, schools are slow to modernize resulting in outdated, inefficient energy and building automation systems that waste money and impede the learning process. Realizing the inefficiencies of its own energy systems, Coast College District decided to pursue an energy systems optimization project in order to help the institution better fulfill its mission of creating an environment that promotes student learning.

The Coast College District is a multi-college district located in Southern California that includes Coastline Community College, Golden West College, and Orange Coast College. Last year the district partnered with SmartWatt to optimize the energy systems at its office facility in Costa Mesa in order to help cut energy costs and improve the comfort of building occupants.

A thorough audit of the facility revealed outdated equipment. The HVAC controls, security camera, and security access systems were improperly commissioned leading to repeated failures. The systems had been serviced by multiple vendors resulting in a lack of uniformity and confusion as whom to contact in the event of maintenance issues.

Other problems plaguing the building included an unfinished plenum near the loading dock that permitted outside air and exhaust fumes from trucks to enter the building. Not only did the incoming air put undue pressure on the HVAC units, the toxic fumes resulted in headache complaints from staff, a stench in the office, and an inordinate amount of dirt and dust build-up. In addition, the air handling unit (AHU) coils weren’t designed for their current use, causing excessive indoor humidity. Finally, extremely low interior and exterior lighting yielded safety concerns and a poorly lit interior working environment.

In developing a bundled energy systems optimization project, SmartWatt began by installing new building automation systems and controls. All HVAC (VAVs, boilers, and AHUs), security keycard access, security camera, solar PV, plug load, and lighting systems were upgraded and integrated for seamless functionality. The systems offer accessibility on a web-based dashboard that enables easy access for monitoring, master scheduling, and overall control. The new building automation systems feature open protocols, giving the district freedom to choose a preferred vendor to perform maintenance, and the ability to easily expand and integrate future technologies into the same platform.

In order to deliver better air quality, SmartWatt commissioned the HVAC system and repaired the AHU coils. The open plenum was finished, decreasing the infiltration of noxious outside air and alleviating unnecessary strain on the HVAC systems while ensuring a comfortable indoor climate.

Improving the safety of staff meant replacing the existing dim lighting with efficient and bright LED fixtures. Equipping the lighting system with an advanced control system helps further reduce energy consumption, while providing a higher quality of light and increased security at night.

The district saves $98,000 annually in energy and maintenance costs thanks to the success of its project. The local community stands to achieve a 440 ton reduction in carbon emissions; the equivalent of saving 45,000 gallons of gasoline or planting 377 acres of trees. Building occupants now enjoy a brighter work environment enhanced for aesthetics, safety and security. Partnering with SmartWatt proved to be a winning strategy for Coast College District.

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