Smart Labs Toolkit

Key Lab Building Renovation Through Alternative Financing Creates Annual Cost Savings of More Than $3 Million for University of Illinois at Chicago

With aging infrastructure, budget constraints, and the desire to improve building performance, the University of Illinois, Chicago (UIC) decided to implement alternative financing through an energy savings performance contract (ESPC) to renovate key laboratory buildings across campus. Partnering with Ameresco, an energy services company, and an engineering contractor Kroeschell, the trio collaborated on UIC’s ESPC project with the objectives of instituting a comprehensive facility audit, a turnkey design process, and a long-term partnership commitment.

Accredited as the largest university in Chicago, UIC’s campus encompasses hundreds of buildings from research laboratories, healthcare facilities, and office buildings, totaling 15,000,000 square feet. When prioritizing which buildings would be involved in the ESPC, UIC decided to focus on five campus buildings in the Science and Engineering Department. These buildings were selected due to the energy savings potential as well as their size, accounting for 17% of square footage on the east campus.

With the overall goals of reducing energy consumption and maintenance costs, the UIC team was able to prioritize a host of energy conservation measures (ECM), including system adaptations; high performance fume hoods; heat recovery systems; mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) infrastructure updates; open protocol control systems; and energy rebate programs implementation. Their holistic approach to energy efficiency resulted in a reduction in 19,277 metric tons of CO2, 12,842 kWh savings, and annual cost savings of just over $3.5 million.

Technology, Implementation, Measurement and Verification, and Lessons Learned

While the upfront cost of the project was over $65 million, using an ESPC allowed the project to be financed by future energy savings, giving UIC the opportunity to avoid the high upfront capital investment. ESPCs are often targeted as dependable financing avenues due to their energy savings guarantee, the ability to outsource project management, and flexibility to be scalable. For the UIC team, the ESPC provided a means to upgrade the outdated and aging infrastructure while also supporting the UIC Climate Action Plan, an aggressive campus-wide initiative aimed at reducing carbon emissions 80% by 2050.

To safely execute the following buildings upgrades, the UIC team engaged with the health and safety department. Each building received lighting upgrades, major HVAC upgrade/replacements, new high-performance fume hood retrofits, enhanced buildings control upgrades, and building envelope weatherization. Across the five campus buildings, the following energy conservation measures were identified as priorities for the project:

  • Upgrade interior lighting system
  • Replace fume hood exhaust fans with roof-mounted systems
  • Replace high temperature hot water absorption chiller with new 500-ton electric chiller and retrofit cooling towers with variable frequency drives
  • Replace constant flow labs and fume hoods with high-performance low-flow hoods
  • Install energy recovery system
  • Upgrade existing HVAC system to chilled beam and variable air volume systems
  • Retrocommission air handling units and upgrade pneumatic controls to direct digital controls.

With this extensive list of ECMs identified, the project faced challenging scheduling requirements as most of the spaces set for upgrades were teaching and research laboratories, general student classrooms, and university offices. The UIC team balanced project implementation and timelines while keeping the buildings occupied throughout the renovation phase. Additionally, UIC’s extensive preplanning and measurement and verification process was essential for ensuring that the cost of ECMs balanced with the expected savings.

To verify the performance of the newly installed upgrades, the team monitored energy intensity to verify savings, allowing them to respond to changes in their utility rates. UIC continued to provide maintenance services and equipment inspections while training new staff and submitting performance reports. Prior to the launch of the project, the team created energy models, which were evaluated throughout the upgrade process. To most accurately model savings, the team identified high impact assumptions, which were later tested to confirm that the high impact parameters were within expected ranges. UIC then calibrated their existing energy models within 5% of monthly energy usage and continue to revise their energy model’s post-construction to reflect any field changes.

Start on Lab Retrofits With Alternative Financing

Consider an ESPC if your team:

  • Wants to outsource measure identification, installation, and project management to a third party
  • Has large projects ($500,000, preferably $5 million-plus) available in one or more facilities
  • Wants a third party to take on performance risk and provide a savings guarantee
  • Is comfortable with navigating a long-term contract (typically 10 to 20 years).