Virginia Tech: Bridging the OT-IT Divide
Virginia Tech is committed to promoting and implementing long-term sustainability best practices in support of an improved physical and academic environment for students, faculty, staff, and society.
Unlike many other Universities that provide services solely to their main campus, VTES delivers electricity to the Blacksburg campus, Corporate Research Center, and to approximately 6,000 residential and commercial electric customers. Therefore, VTES must be able to meet the dynamic needs of the University and the local community. Whether it is powering Lane Stadium with electricity on game day for 65,000 fans or maintaining almost 4,000 street and sidewalk lights across campus and Blacksburg, VTES has a goal to deliver improved energy efficiency, resiliency, and top-notch service.
As part of VT’s Climate Action Commitment, the following goals have been set:
- Carbon Neutral Virginia Tech Campus by 2030
- 100% Renewable Electricity by 2030
– 2027 Develop battery storage 10 MW on campus
– 2029 Purchase solar 100 MW in region
- Total conversion of steam plant fuel to natural gas by 2025
– Plan for a full transition to renewable steam plant fuel after 2025
- Reduce Building Energy Consumption to Enable Carbon Neutrality by 2030
– 2021 Green Lab Certification program launched campus-wide
– 2030 Energy management reduces energy intensity by 20% below 2020 baseline
- Operations of new buildings initiated after 2030 will be Carbon Neutral
– 2026 Develop plan for showcase zero-net-energy building on campus
– 2028 New building energy intensity 40% lower than 2020 existing buildings
The primary Utilities locations for the Virginia Tech campus are: 601 Energy Drive and the Central Steam Plant located between Old Turner Street and Barger Street. The Central Steam Plant generates an annual steam output greater than 943 billion British Thermal Units (BTUs) and provides campus buildings with a portion of their heat, hot water, and electricity needs.
In addition to the central Steam Plant, VT is in process of renovating their chilled water infrastructure with the installation of three state- of-the-art 3,000-ton chillers (two in the North Chiller Plant located on Stanger Street, and one in the Southwest Chiller Plant located in the Duckpond Drive Parking Lot. These new chillers are part of a plan to create one continuous chilled water loop with four miles of new underground piping across campus to connect the North and Southwest Chiller Plants, along with stand-alone chiller systems installed in buildings on campus.
The result of this chilled water system integration project will present an opportunity to holistically optimize the distribution and management of chilled water. To successfully optimize the generation and distribution of utilities across a multi-building environment like VT, it is necessary to aggregate data from operational technology platforms that traditionally operate in silos.
Control platforms are not designed to store large quantities of data; they are control platforms. As control system vendors and end- users begin to realize the value of information that exists in their data, control systems are being pushed to perform as historians and analytics packages, with varying levels of success. Physically storing data on control systems (i.e. on control panels or at the system’s head-end server) will eventually impact the functional performance of the system.
In fact, most control platforms store data in relational databases (like SQL) instead of purpose built time-series databases which are far more effective at storing huge quantities of data. Furthermore, broadening the level of access to control systems beyond operators creates additional operational risk. This risk ranges in severity from juggling license ‘seats’ to un-, or under-trained personnel accidentally modifying or deleting parts of the system.
Campuses all over the world are considering how their critical infrastructure fits in with their overall sustainability initiatives. At the forefront of these campuses is Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech has big, far-reaching goals to reduce their environmental impact across their campus, and to reach these goals, they need an ambitious plan and an experienced team to execute that vision. At Virginia Tech, sustainability and environmental impact are top-of-line issues, and they are using this opportunity to change their philosophy on how they plan, design, implement, and, most importantly, continuously optimize their critical infrastructure. Shared data, systems integration, and analytics power this approach, and this data-first philosophy enables campuses to realize efficiency and value in their systems like never before.