Stabilising energy consumption in the face of rapid growth

The Horowhenua district is growing fast, but even with a growing population, the Horowhenua District Council (HDC) has still saved around $280,000 of energy-related costs and avoided 1.1 GWh of energy consumption, thanks to an effective energy management plan.

The Horowhenua district is currently home to around 35,000 people, but rapid development in the district has seen almost every metric – population, GDP, building consents, property values – growing faster than previously predicted.

As with most smaller councils, energy management cannot command a dedicated resource, and so a partnership with Smart Power was developed. This partnership was refined over the space of a few years and then formalised by an Energy Management Plan, adopted in August 2017. That Plan has now overseen the establishment of a baseline, energy audits of all of HDC’s key building assets and 3-Waters infrastructure, continuous commissioning on their newest community facility in Foxton, optimisations of site connections, metering and tariffs, managed procurement, data collection and analysis, monitoring and targeting and other technical reporting, staff training, and community engagement.

HDC was able to prioritise funding where outcomes justified it, and in some cases sought co-funding from EECA. Senior Management was fully behind the energy management programme, and this enabled staff to give it the priority it deserves. Horowhenua District Council has a culture of ‘can do’ and made things happen. Unsurprisingly, this has been a key component to their success.

In addition to the obvious ‘bottom-line’ benefits, HDC has been able to demonstrate strong leadership to both their community and their local government peers.

Nicki Brady, HDC’s GM Communities, Partnerships and Business, says, “I had known from my earliest days in joining Council that there was a lot we could do to improve our energy performance, and that would directly translate to cost savings which are particularly important for a small Council like us. At the same time I knew that we would have to start small and build momentum.”

In 2016 a Collaboration Agreement with EECA was signed which marked the first big step forward. “That was a significant moment in the journey, because it gave us a mandate to put some real effort into our energy portfolio. My priority became finding a project where I knew there would be some ‘easy wins’ to demonstrate what we could achieve”.

The Levin Aquatic Centre was identified as a likely candidate for an energy audit, and HDC selected Smart Power to complete the review of the site and make recommendations around efficient improvements. That work was completed in 2016, and its success (identifying opportunities to reduce energy consumption by 40% and cost by 31%) started a ‘snowballing’ of activity.

  • Smart Power was engaged to take over management and verification of all energy accounts, which was also the beginning of comprehensive energy data collection and analysis on HDC’s behalf
  • This unlocked the ability for regular reviews of data (in the form of time of use profile analyses and portfolio-wide Monitoring and Targeting) as well as providing significant savings.
  • The Energy Management Plan had identified targets for further auditing work, which was subsequently completed, covering the Three Waters portfolio, the Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-pō library/community centre, and the Civic Administration Building.
  • A long-term continuous commissioning project is under way following the construction of the Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom library/museum/community centre.

At the conclusion of the first two years of Monitoring and Targeting and associated activity, a Measurement and Verification process (using the IPMVP framework) confirmed that the energy management programme had resulted in HDC avoiding 1,140,000 kWh of consumption in those two years, with a nominal value of $110,000.

Continuous Commissioning

The continuous commissioning project underway on the Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom facility is an interesting demonstration of how it is never wise to assume any building or infrastructure is operating efficiently, even if it has been well designed and constructed recently.

This facility – a redevelopment of a Mitre 10 store – has a gross floor area of 1,700-1,800 m2 and cost approx. $8.5-8.6 million. From a building services perspective, it incorporates a centralised building management system to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning plant, and has networked lighting controls. It opened to the public around the middle of November 2017, but even prior to opening Smart Power had identified that the metering which had been installed would not be optimal for the site’s characteristics, and that a more favourable network tariff could be selected. Such an opportunity could easily be missed without the input of specialist energy management resource, and enacting simple changes right at the start avoided a little over $40,000 p.a. in on-going energy costs.

The building was subject to a twelve-month defects-liability period following completion of construction. After that time the building was fully ‘handed over’ to HDC and the continuous commissioning project was kicked off. A number of plant and equipment faults were identified early on, as well as some control system inconsistencies. Addressing those issues and additional operational improvements has yielded a significant drop in consumption. The project is still under way and so a formal savings verification and valuation has not yet been completed, but trends to date show the electricity consumption tracking over 30% below the previous year’s level (when the building was still brand new!)

What next?

The overall energy management programme is certainly not running out of opportunities to progress. A number of initiatives identified in the audits are still awaiting implementation. The audits collectively pinpointed ~1.7 GWh and over $210,000 of potential cost and consumption savings, and while some of the initiatives fall outside of current investment criteria or are only achievable as part of scheduled maintenance upgrades, it demonstrates that there is significant scope for HDC to continue their energy optimisations. Equally, every new site or significant refurbishment offers new opportunity to review performance and identify improvements.

The HDC energy management story is one of constant learning and evolution, but largely it is a testament to what can be achieved from a small beginnings and motivated staff. Small steps at first, with clear demonstration of the benefits at each stage, has helped to gain strong (and growing) support for the energy management programme from both senior management and the elected members.

Smart Power’s involvement from the beginning has also helped to maintain continuity of support, despite the staffing and operational changes at HDC. The same core team of Smart Power staff have been working with HDC across the whole five-year period.

Who else could do this?

Most large local government organisations across New Zealand already have established energy management programmes, and many have one or even multiple staff members with specific energy management responsibilities. However, HDC has demonstrated that much can be achieved even in smaller councils with far more limited resources and budgets. Indeed, their successes have already directly assisted a number of other similar-sized or smaller councils with starting on their own energy management journeys, taking the same small steps that HDC took in the beginning.

There was a lot we could do to improve our energy performance, and that would directly translate to cost savings which are particularly important for a small Council like us. At the same time I knew that we would have to start small and build momentum.

Nicki Brady, HDC’s GM Communities, Partnerships and Business