by ESMI BARRERA
San Beda College Alabang turns energy-saving know-how into action Many locals saw Muntinlupa as the edge of where “the provinces” began, but the venerable San Beda College broke ground there and opened its satellite campus in 1972.
Benedictine Abbey School accepted pre-schoolers, then its first batch of high school freshmen within five years. It became a college in 1990, and 14 years later renamed itself the San Beda College Alabang (SBCA).
The 9.6-hectare campus with 7,000 enrollees is earning its place among the country’s respected learning institutions, with a College of Arts and Sciences, a School of Law, and a Master of Business Administration program.
Along with continuous efforts to elevate the college’s academic standing, Rector-President Dom Clement Roque, OSB, aims to keep SBCA’s facilities up-to-date. “My vision is for San Beda to be a front-runner as an energy-efficient school,” he declares. That is no idle boast: the college is set to unveil the low-carbon-future jewel of the campus.
An energy-conscious SBCA community teaches students to practice power-usage management beyond the campus.
Discarding bad habits
The college launched its energy-efficiency campaign for schoolyear 2013-2014. The savings, explains Fr. Aelred Nilo, OSB, SBCA’s director for Finance, Administration and General Services, can go to “upgrade school facilities and stave off tuition-fee increases.”
SBCA consulted the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco) and asked it to conduct a campus-wide audit of the school’s electricity usage. Patrick Henry T. Panlilio, Relationship Manager for Meralco Corporate Partners, set up a meeting with the school administrators, MServ Energy Specialist Philip Anthony Caranto and Energy Solutions Engineer Boyam Calderon.
Meralco presented its report before the end of 2013, and the multiple-phase executions began in 2014. One of the chief drains on SBCA’s energy expenses stood out: air conditioning. With air conditioners in the classrooms, offices, chapel, museum and library, the power consumption simply added up.
“We were using air conditioners old enough for the junk heap!” exclaims Art Solomon, SBCA’s General Services supervisor. Using serviceable old appliances seems to make frugal sense, but not for long-term efficiency.
Much of the energy loss was also traced to bad habits and slack administrative policies. Doors were often left ajar at classrooms and offices, as air conditioners hummed and classes went on.
The audit team also found unoccupied rooms with the air conditioning on, and teachers were habitually staying in fully lit, air-conditioned classrooms after classes were over, to prep lesson plans, grade papers, or lounge.
Switch to inverters and LEDs
SBCA gradually replaced its conventional air conditioners with inverter models. Compressors in inverter air conditioning operate at a high speed to cool the room quickly. As the room approaches the set temperature, the compressor slows down and maintains a constant temperature to save energy.
Inverter air conditioners currently account for 50 percent of the units in the grade-school building, and 90 percent of those in the high-school and college buildings.
Structural changes were made to keep air-conditioned rooms airtight and optimize room cooling, Solomon says. Roman blinds, window tints, insulation, and natural-light options were put in, as were automatic door closers.
Policy changes were also made, says college Comptroller Amy de Leon; teachers must now acquire permission with a justifiable reason to extend air-conditioning hours. “We’ve also set aside classrooms for tutoring,” she adds.
Across the campus, lighting fixtures were upgraded to LED lights, and LCD computer monitors were replaced with LED screens.
Two years after the college implemented Meralco’s recommendations, SBCA’s energy intensity index (EII) improved by an average 5 percent, to 239.49 from 258.48 despite more school enrollees and hotter weather. A lower EII reflects a more efficient use of energy.
The reduction in electricity contributed to savings of half a million pesos for schoolyear 2014-2015, as the school’s energy requirements fell by an average of 70,000 kilowatt-hours.
There is no straightforward energy-savings calculus for the succeeding schoolyears, with the construction of more classrooms in mid-2015, and of a new building. Nonetheless, for schoolyear 2015-2016, SBCA shaved nearly P2.8 million from its electric bill, thanks to reduced power rates.
Hefty savings aside, Nilo considers it more important that “our students will also inculcate the values of energy management, in society, at school, and at home.”
De Leon claims the campus community is “already very energy-conscious,” but the most potent proof is the new Our Lady of Montserrat building. The master plan for this “smart building” is by internationally respected architect, urban planner and environmentalist Felino A. Palafox, Jr., but Nilo cheerfully ascribes the impetus to Meralco’s Panlilio.
Conceptualized last year, the six-floor structure will incorporate the Building Management System (BMS), using information technology to link subsystems – lights, hand dryers, automatic faucets and flushers, air conditioners – otherwise autonomous in conventional structures.
Power-savvy from the ground up
This smart building is the first in the campus installed with inverter air conditioners that use variable refrigerant flow (VRF). VRF technology lets individual units cool rooms at speeds that deliver energy savings at partial-load conditions. Sources place the energy savings from VRF use at up to 55 percent.
BMS centralizes the controls. No longer can students or teachers crank the thermostat down to 18oC, much colder than the prescribed 25oC.
The system also matches occupancy patterns to energy use. Lights and appliances can automatically switch off when bathrooms, offices and classrooms are unoccupied.
“With BMS,” Nilo explains, “you can connect a tablet to the wi-fi, check the room occupancy remotely, and switch off the power using an app.” The data access and analyses optimize cooling and ventilation, and make proactive equipment maintenance easier.
Nilo hopes the building will be ready for schoolyear 2017-2018, to accommodate the first batch of grade 12 students.
Next step: going solar
Meanwhile, he says “the greening of SBCA” compels them to explore solar energy. The college awarded Spectrum, Meralco’s solar-energy solutions subsidiary, a contract to install an
82-kilowatt peak solar-panel system in the smart building. Spectrum’s target date for the commission is by the end of June.
While all this goes on, Meralco conducts preventive-maintenance checkups for the school’s electrical facilities, long after it hosted the Power Up forum on July 23, 2016 to brief non-teaching personnel about energy conservation.
“We are happy to be of service to a learning institution like San Beda College Alabang,” remarks Panlilio. “It’s our privilege to assist and contribute in every way to further knowledge and education.”
It’s too soon for a return on SBCA’s investments in energy-efficient equipment, but the partnership with Meralco is a welcome eye-opener. “The impact is good! The campus community became energy-conscious. We thought Meralco just sends you the electric bill,” jokes Nilo, “but they came in and gave us all-out assistance, and we saw its wisdom and its effects.” (With Jing Lejano)