In the mid-1990s, the Auraria Higher Education Center needed to upgrade energy systems throughout its downtown Denver campus, home to three colleges and 33,000 year-round students. Most of the lighting in 19 campus buildings was old and inefficient, and the aging cooling equipment was not meeting the needs of the campus.
With no money available from the state for capital improvements, Auraria entered into a performance contract with an energy service company (ESCO) to make the needed upgrades happen. Keeping buildings cool on extremely hot days was a particularly difficult problem, and an initial energy audit showed that the campus's cooling tower was too small. Under the performance contract, the cooling tower was upgraded to full size and two 20-year-old chillers were replaced.
The ESCO also retrofitted over 10,000 light fixtures in classrooms, offices, a parking garage, and the student union building, a process that took three months to complete. Additional upgrades included installing a new energy management control system, laboratory fume hoods, and a new heat recovery system.
Overall, the ESCO spent $2.1 million for upgrades that impacted 1.25 million square feet of campus space. The ESCO guaranteed $285,000 per year of energy cost savings over the nine-year life of the performance contract, resulting in a simple payback period of 7.4 years or less. Savings during the first year after installation exceeded the guaranteed level. Other benefits of the project include improved lighting quality for a better learning environment; greater occupant comfort through improved room temperature control; elimination of the use of CFCs in the chiller plant; and improved air quality and safety in fume hood areas.