Unlike earlier generation systems, Smart Labs enhance safety information by providing a "detailed, space-specific record of air-quality and system performance" from the chemical sensors installed in labs that indicate a chemical leak or spill. Marc Gomez, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Facilities Management and Environmental Health & Safety notes that when a chemical spill occurs, "the system can increase the ventilation rate and summon technical staff by texting them so they can fix the problem."
The cornerstone of UCI's Smart Labs program is the newly constructed Sue and Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Laboratory (pictured above), where the energy savings resulting from the smart lab design criteria are equivalent to taking 130 automobiles off the road for 20 years.
How to retrofit existing laboratories
Ten other Irvine campus laboratories have been retrofitted with the required technology to make them "smart."
The seven key components to retrofitting any existing labs are:
- Install fundamental baseline features including direct-digital controls, manifolded exhaust fans, differential pressure control of heating hot water, and fixing known problems.
- Install real time, demand-based ventilation to control air changes per hour based on occupancy and measured air quality.
- Improve lighting efficiency.
- Sharply reduce exhaust fan energy.
- Remove duct noise attenuators, where feasible.
- Reduce fume hood standby ventilation.
- Perform final commissioning to ensure all improvements are working, integrated and meeting performance standards.
Return on investment
While this list of requirements may seem daunting, the return on an admittedly large initial investment is clear. Smart Labs and continuous commissioning provide for greater long-term financial savings and stability, as well as strategic analysis and monitoring — all things that cannot be accomplished with traditional monitor-based commissioning.
Incorporating Smart Lab features into the Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Laboratory during initial construction in 2010 added approximately $900,000 to the clinical research facility's $72.4 million price tag. UC Irvine expects to save at least $110,000 annually in energy costs as a result of this investment — an eight-year ROI. The five-level, 125,000 gross-square-foot facility carries a LEED Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council and is one of the most energy-efficient laboratories in the nation.
By comparison, it cost about $675,000 to retrofit Natural Sciences II. The five-story, 140,000 gross-square-foot building was built in 2005. It houses biological and physical sciences laboratories. The retrofit, completed in 2011, is expected to save more than $180,000 a year in energy costs — meaning the retrofit pays for itself in less than four years.
"Three factors will determine whether a smart labs retrofit will pay for itself in another institution, in a different locale," Brase noted. These are:
- Relative energy prices, particularly for electricity.
- Existing lab ACH (which might be considerably higher than UCI's prior to the retrofit).
- Thermal savings, which for most locales will be far greater than UC Irvine realized in its temperate climate.
"Most laboratories will realize comparable or even greater savings than UC Irvine," said Brase. "Some institutions will realize fewer savings but could still benefit from many of the elements of the Smart Labs program."
"We are heartened by the savings the university is realizing from deep energy-efficiency projects," said Brase. "The energy saved from these projects, which typically reduce energy consumed and carbon emitted by half or more, could be considered the most feasible form of sustainable energy — longer-lasting, larger scale and more affordable than most renewable technologies currently available."
In fact, UC Irvine is receiving nationwide attention for its expertise and innovation. Smart Labs are a centerpiece of President Barack Obama's Better Buildings Challenge, aimed at making commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020 and accelerating government and private-sector investment in energy efficiency. In fact, UCI is on track to achieve 40 percent savings on the main campus by 2020, doubling the president's objective.
Undoubtedly, UC Irvine's Smart Labs innovations in energy efficiency will raise the bar on laboratory performance in all sectors.
To see presentations and learn more about the UC Irvine Smart Labs program, visit their Smart Labs Initiative page.
To read more from Wendell Brase:
Photo of Sue & Bill Gross Stem Cell Research Laboratory courtesy of Nick Merrick © Hedrich Blessing 2010.