Tulane University and Bernhard Announce Partnership to Optimize Energy Infrastructure and Improve Resiliency

Project significantly reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions and bolsters reliability of campus infrastructure

________________

Bernhard and Tulane University announced this week a 30-year Energy-as-a-Service partnership that includes large-scale and immediate improvements to campus infrastructure and the construction of a 1-megawatt solar generation facility that will produce 10% of the university’s total electricity needs at its uptown campus. The upfront improvements are expected to significantly reduce Tulane’s cumulative annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions with the ultimate goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

Drawing inspiration from the concerted sustainability efforts of Tulane and Bernhard, Project RISE (Renew, Innovate, Sustain, Engage) addresses significant capital renewal, sustainability and energy optimization priorities across Tulane’s uptown and downtown campuses. Through the innovative partnership, Tulane will accelerate the delivery of campus upgrades that will increase the resiliency and reliability of critical infrastructure on Tulane’s campuses. Bernhard is also guaranteeing significant annual utility cost savings over the length of the agreement, a commitment that includes bringing one or more Tulane buildings to certified Net Zero Energy status by 2025.

“This partnership is a major step forward in Tulane’s continued commitment to environmental sustainability. Through it we will significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as we journey toward a carbon neutral future that also fully supports our critical research and educational missions,” Tulane President Michael Fitts said. “By increasing efficiency, building resilience and seeking alternative energy sources, the Bernhard and Tulane partnership is expected to also achieve the goal of a 30% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2025 as outlined in Tulane’s Climate Action Plan.”

“We see this partnership with Tulane as not only beneficial for their campus, but the entire state of Louisiana,” said Ed Tinsley, Bernhard CEO. “Tulane and Bernhard’s efforts in creating a more sustainable and resilient future with optimized energy usage and reduced carbon profile will have a positive ripple effect throughout the region.”

Being located in one of the world’s most active hurricane zones has granted Tulane University a unique perspective on the necessity of a reliable power supply. “Lack of consistent power during a weather event or local infrastructure failure can be detrimental to operations, academic instruction and the student experience and may cause catastrophic loss of research materials and specimens,” said Patrick Norton, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Tulane. “With Bernhard, we have made a commitment to strengthen Tulane’s infrastructure on both the downtown and uptown campuses in a financially and environmentally responsible way.”

At commencement of the partnership, Tulane will transfer the risk of energy operations and maintenance to Bernhard. Bernhard’s team will immediately design and upgrade campus energy infrastructure including lighting, combined heat and power, standby electrical power, building automation, heating water, steam, and domestic and chilled water. Monitoring of asset performance and measurement and verification of energy savings throughout the project will be provided through Bernhard Connect™.

“We are proud to partner with Tulane to upgrade its energy infrastructure and to assist the university in reaching its goal of 30% emission reduction by 2025 and carbon neutrality by 2050,” said Rob Guthrie, Bernhard’s Chief Development Officer. “Project RISE not only provides the university with long-term operational certainty over the next three decades, but also insulates Tulane from natural disasters. The unique combination of distributed generation and energy efficiency strategies will reduce the university’s peak electrical grid demand by nearly 50%.”

The university was supported in the transaction by a group of advisors, including Ernst & Young Infrastructure Advisors, LLC (EYIA) as lead. Other supporting advisors included Baker-Donelson, LLP, McGuire-Woods, LLP, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, and RMF Engineering, Inc.

Bernhard Celebrates Lafayette Regional Airport’s Grand Opening of New Terminal

_______________

Nearly 27 years ago, one of Bernhard’s first HVAC service customers in Lafayette was the Lafayette Regional Airport. This week, they are both celebrating the grand opening of the facility’s new terminal.

“Lafayette and Bernhard have a long and storied relationship,” said Doug Dorsey, Vice President at Bernhard. “As the city grew, we grew, and that’s represented with this new terminal.”

After months of construction on the terminal and vital airport infrastructure components, Lafayette Regional Airport opened its new terminal Jan. 20th.

Bernhard’s role in the project saw their team tasked with performing all HVAC, plumbing, and electrical systems installation while transitioning the old terminal to the new structure with month-to-month HVAC services.

The new state-of-the-art LFT Terminal spans 120,000 square feet, which is double the size of the original where Bernhard has performed HVAC maintenance for almost three decades. Included in the expansion project is 966 parking spots, five departure and arrival gates with new jet bridges, a rotunda area with restaurant and bar, and two TSA security screening lines with the ability to add a third line if needed.

The previous terminal and all airport services remained open and in place while the new terminal was built adjacent.

“There were unique challenges with crews and utilizing equipment while staying out of the way of ongoing operations,” said Dorsey. “Our team takes a lot of pride in being able to solve those puzzles and deliver the best result for our customers.”

Louisiana’s history can be seen throughout the terminal design in subtle nuances. As visitors look up on arrival, they will notice panels of stained glass etched in the vibrant colors of the Acadian flag.

The New LFT Terminal project cost approximately $150 million and is 100% funded. The project was funded in part by $34 million in sales tax money approved in 2014 by Lafayette Parish voters.

“Seeing the ribbon cut on this project is a proud day for our team,” said Blake Greer, Lafayette Business Unit Manager at Bernhard. “Most of our crew members were born in Louisiana and still call this state home. Seeing an impact on our own local communities makes projects like this one special.”

_______________

 

Discover the Benefits Prefabrication and Manufacturing Can Have on Your Project

By: Charles A. Visser, PE at Bernhard

_______________

It’s no secret that over the last 20 years we have seen a significant increase in the usage and dependency on technology. The access to information and ease in which we can communicate has revolutionized most businesses. It has also created an environment where people expect immediate results. The construction industry is no different, we see an increasing demand for projects to be delivered quicker and with less risk.

One solution: build a better product out of sequence and away from the constraints of the project site. It sounds too easy, right? Fortunately, the same technological advances that created the new expectations has provided us a path to a solution. Through extensive collaboration, information sharing, and willingness to make timely decisions, prefabrication and modular construction strategies become viable solutions to the common drivers of safety, quality, speed, and risk.

It is important to note that we define prefabrication as the off-site construction of building system components in a manufacturing environment.  Prefabricated building system components can be combined to create larger modular building assemblies.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin

A successful off-site construction plan needs a vision. Work with project stakeholders and answer a few basic questions.

  • What safety aspects of the project can be improved by off-site construction?
  • How can building systems be routed to optimize long term maintenance?
  • Are there any trades that will have a difficult time getting quality field labor?
  • What repetitive activities can be completed away from the project site?

Opportunities for prefabrication can range from pre-assembling plumbing rough-in for bathroom groups, building pump and equipment skids, horizontal utility distribution, and complete central utility plants. Multi-trade assemblies can be manufactured by grouping multiple building sub-system components together into a single “module”.

The fabrication vision and list of potential opportunities will assist in guiding the project’s key stakeholders, including the design team, in the process. This up-front effort of planning and coordination for off-site manufacturing means engineers and designers can more easily incorporate prefabricating concepts and components into the design.  Alternative project delivery methods, like design-assist and design-build, unite the design and construction team members earlier in the process and help achieve complete buy-in.

“In every situation, ideation is necessary, but decision is mandatory.” Chris Knutson

With limited availability of skilled labor, prefabrication allows construction teams to be more productive and deliver better results. Manufacturing multi-trade assemblies for use in a hospital corridor, for example, means a handful of on-site field staff can install thousands of feet of mechanical, plumbing and electrical distribution in a single work day.

The results can be extraordinary, however, no matter what your prefabrication vision is, and how much planning you do, it will be difficult to be successful without timely decision making. The timeliness of making a decision can easily outweigh the importance of how good the decision is for the project. Understand all of the activities that need to take place in order to deliver the manufactured product to the project site in time for installation. Instead of creating a schedule with only activities shown, try creating a milestone schedule that lists all of the key decisions and dates they need to be made by.  It is a simple solution but can help keep the team on track and realize success.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

Executing a successful off-site construction plan needs a strong team. Partners who have the soft skills to effectively share the vision, work collaboratively and plan extensively will play a vital role. Another important attribute, that isn’t obvious and can be difficult to measure, is a trade partner’s ability to problem solve.  Diverse experience and perspective naturally challenges conventional practices to produce innovation. The versatility and strength of the project team is crucial to executing a successful off-site construction plan.

The most important hard skills include fabrication experience, building information modeling (BIM) and overall construction intelligence. BIM software has become a common platform that teams leverage to communicate and document prefabrication concepts.  A diverse team that possesses these skills along with the soft skills mentioned have the tools to be successful.

“Before the reward there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.” Ralph Ransom

Prefabrication and manufacturing have the ability to move a significant percentage of the labor activities off-site. Fabricating components off-site reduces the number of tasks that must be completed on the construction site. This reduces the pressure on finding skilled workers in an ever-changing economy.

Additionally, prefabrication enhances job-site safety and quality control for crew members. The modules are designed to be more compact and delivered to the job site with everything needed for installation. This significantly reduces overhead tasks, eliminates daily mobilization and de-mobilization activities, and reduces the number of on-site materials and equipment needed for installation. Less work completed in the field means lower risk of injury and a safer job site overall.

For mechanical construction, starting the scope of work earlier in the project means it can be completed out of sequence compared to traditional, linear project delivery. This results in earlier completion dates and increased flexibility in the project schedule.

Prefabrication and modular construction strategies are becoming more popular and can significantly improve a project’s outcome. Establishing a clear vision, leveraging timely decision making, and building partnerships will help ensure success. How much of your next project will consist of prefabricated components?

_______________

Charles (Chuck) Visser has more than 20 years of experience in engineering design, pre-construction, and construction. Currently an Executive Vice President at Bernhard, Chuck has managed pre-construction and engineering for several large-scale projects in hospitality, healthcare, higher education, and commercial sectors. He specializes in design-assist and design-build delivery, working collaboratively across project stakeholders to deliver the best possible solution for the customer. Chuck is a registered Professional Engineer and brings exemplary leadership and technical expertise to his role at Bernhard.

Building Resilience to Weather the Storm – Literally

By: Jessi Bienert, Bernhard’s VP of Sustainable Solutions

________________

A 500-Year Storm

The North American winter storm (unofficially referred to as Winter Storm Uri) was a major winter and ice storm that had widespread impacts across the United States, Northern Mexico and parts of Canada from February 13 to 17, 2021. This once-in-500-years storm left 10 million people without power and Middle America was hit hard. Hospitals were among the most critical institutions impacted.

Hospitals in particular have unique interdependencies in their utility types. Power, water, heating, and more are intricately connected in healthcare facilities and any impact to one type of utility could mean disaster. Winter Storm Uri uncovered multiple vulnerabilities in the infrastructure serving hospitals and caused cascading effects. However, many of these issues can be mitigated by effective and efficient energy measures paired with good operations and maintenance practices.

The extreme cold affected gas markets from Texas to Minnesota leading to once-in-a-lifetime gas prices at extreme highs. Multiple electricity wholesale markets also spiked while its infrastructure reached emergency operating levels. In fact, wholesale electricity markets rose anywhere from 100x to 360x normal market prices.

The Brink

In this condition, both electricity and gas distributions were on the brink of shutting down. Hospitals, particularly in the southern states of North America, battled extreme market prices, the inability to receive additional diesel fuel for backup systems and frozen water infrastructure causing loss of water.

This storm affected all utilities because of the interconnection between natural gas, electricity and water. While some hospitals lost utilities for short periods of time, many experienced catastrophic impacts to utility budgets, which have only begun to be realized. In February alone, hospitals saw anywhere from a 65% to 5,000% increase in gas costs. Their inability to mitigate this price shock stemmed from a few key factors:

  • Extreme cold weather forced peak natural gas consumption at peak prices.
  • There was a lack of price signals from utilities.
  • Freeze protection measures and pandemic operations increased peak energy consumption.

Short-Term Impacts

With these factors at play, the situation became dire. Short-term impacts were felt in extreme budget strains, water leaks, negative impacts from energy-saving measures and demand response obligations. One Bernhard client, the University of Arkansas of Medical Sciences (UAMS), purchases natural gas as part of a large pool in Arkansas. While we did explore opportunities to cut back on natural gas during the storm, this set-up enabled the hospital to stay out of the skyrocketing market. Unfortunately, our team at Bernhard saw other hospitals that were not in a pool arrangement incur costs that doubled their annual natural gas budget.

Pragmatically, many facilities in the southern United States were not created to survive such a freeze. That explains why leaks occurred and frozen pipes caused issues for facilities. Many were caught immediately, but underground pipes were not initially observed. Careful monitoring was necessary in the short-term, but is also a consideration for continued management.

During the storm, UAMS ran their facilities on diesel fuel on three occasions in order to reduce the peak load on the power grid serving central Arkansas. However, this actually increased natural gas usage in some ways. The facility’s two heat-pump chillers are unable to run while the facility was on generator power so the hospital still needed to run their natural gas boilers.

Since 2007, UAMS has implemented a strong energy conservation program, reducing its total utility cost by about 65% and cutting its carbon footprint by 30% with Bernhard’s help. But even the most prepared and energy-conscious organizations were greatly impacted by the weather crisis. Many of these occurred due to overcorrections that were never reverted post-crisis. With extensive, consistent monitoring using tools like automatic fault detection, facility operators can automatically identify energy concerns.

Long-Term Impacts

We are still discovering and experiencing the long-term impacts of Winter Storm Uri. Budget concerns will continue to impact future plans for many hospitals. From a legislative perspective (especially in Texas, but also in Oklahoma, Arkansas and other states), there are cascading impacts. Current legislation examines grid reliability and generation assessments, new weatherization requirements, changes to critical customer status, new bond programs and existing utility generation assessments.

On the electricity side, many hospitals take interruptible electricity. This gives them price breaks from their utilities, but means they can be required to cut back from or come off of the grid. On the gas side, most hospitals look for interruptible-type rates, but when that’s not possible, there are provisions and inclusions that actually make you curtailable. In this arrangement, it is imperative that you have a backup utility. All of these factors are important to pay attention to until we see how tariffs and utility rules are changed.

Increased utility rates are one of the many long-term concerns. During this storm, electricity saw high fuel costs as the market costs peaked. While the market stabilized in the short-term, fuel costs are rising again due to storage shortfalls brought about by Winter Storm Uri, those fuel costs will begin cascading down into your electricity costs as a fuel charge. Some states, like Oklahoma, approved new bond programs to allow utility companies to borrow money at a low interest rate so customers can pay over a longer period of time. As a result, the impact will be felt for 13-24 years with a 4-7% cost for electricity, just from those harrowing eleven days.

With so much storage withdrawn during the storm, commodity prices have not come back down to what we saw in 2020. We will continue to see sustained higher pricing in the long-term. Additionally, some utilities have filed to amend their integrative resource plan. This is a long-term plan for generation capacity and they want to amend it to move away from natural gas. This will impact how the cost gets passed down to customers as well and potentially reduce reliance on natural gas for electricity production.

Current Investigations

In the affected areas, most attorney general offices are investigating price gouging and general utility purchasing practices. In Arkansas, for example, the state commission has opened a docket examining how and if utilities are prepared to respond to a storm like this and how the fuel and purchase power is procured and allocated.

There are also federal investigations that look into wrongdoing in the natural gas market. It cost hospitals, customers and utilities billions of dollars, but there are people who made money. The North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), which regulates the electric grid, is working alongside the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to understand the rolling blackouts, both in Texas and two regional transmission markets (covering the entire central United States).

Mitigating Future Risk

For hospitals, patients always come first. There are ways to mitigate future risk and it starts with communication. It’s vital to create a line of communication between commodity suppliers and facility personnel. Your local provider may be focused on keeping you online, but not concerned with the costs. Some of our customers hedged up to 90% of their natural gas and were still heavily impacted by the storm. It’s important to understand how you are purchasing natural gas and understand its impact in a situation like this storm. Review your commodity price risk mitigation plans and make a plan for possible emergency flow orders by keeping your nominations up to date.

Be aware your supplier often takes your monthly nominations and spreads them evenly throughout the month. That’s why it’s important to reduce consumption in non-critical areas and talk to those commodity managers to be sure you’re monitoring closely together. Very practically, you should ensure unoccupied areas are scheduled to minimum heating for freeze protection. We recommend checking this and the maintenance of your steam distribution year-round. One failed steam trap can increase your natural gas consumption by 20%.

Dual-fuel operations are vital, but in order for this to work properly, operators must be comfortable swapping to either fuel. Run each type regularly and check your diesel storage tanks to make sure you have enough fuel for an extended period of time.

Waste heat recovery technology, such as heat-pump chillers, will reduce consumption. Bernhard has clients that realize natural gas savings of more than 50% thanks to this equipment. Plate and frame heat exchangers are excellent tools for efficiency and they are even more important on the heels of this storm. Some of these measures can be time-consuming if you don’t have good control systems, so controls upgrades are a vital part of creating efficiencies.

Other key mitigation measures include:

  • Maintaining override logs.
  • Managing peak energy consumption.
  • Investigating electricity programs that subsidize full back-up power during an NERC level 2 and 3 emergency
  • Creating a historical reference guide of utilities failures including cause and detailed procedures to restore.
  • Completing vulnerability and gap analysis for utility sources and distribution.

Lessons Learned

Interdependency between hospital utility types can have catastrophic effects on cost and availability during extreme weather. Now more than ever, we are aware that regulated utilities do not protect consumers from market price spikes; in fact, costs can simply be delayed. Most importantly, there are operational steps that can be taken to mitigate utility price impacts, such as energy efficiency measures. These measures can create resilient facilities against volatile commodity prices, especially when paired with good operations and maintenance practices.

About the Author:

Jessi Bienert has worked at Bernhard since 2009 and most recently served as a Director for the Logic group where she oversaw Bernhard’s measurement and verification, utility analysis, utility management, benchmarking, and O&M training service lines. She is an expert in utility management and specializes in utility rate analysis for large-scale campus energy conservation programs. Jessi is passionate about her work and often advocates on behalf of clients with utility providers to secure the best possible utility rate solutions.

_______________