Water and Energy Saving in Aquatic Facilities – Case Study: Warringah Aquatic Centre (Part 1)

At a time when the sustainability of Aquatic and Recreation facilities is under closer scrutiny than ever before, it is incumbent on us all as Facility Managers to be proactive in ensuring our facilities are sustainable from a financial, social and environmental standpoint. This first of two posts on this case study sets out the actions taken and lessons learnt over the past 15 years as the management of the Warringah Aquatic Centre (WAC) endeavour to ensure the sustainability and very survival of the facility,

This first post considers energy saving, with the second post (Water and Energy Saving in Aquatic Facilities – Case Study: Warringah Aquatic Centre – Part 2) focusing on water saving.

Energy Saving

In 1997, energy costs at WAC were $200,000 per year and concern was looking that in 1999 a 20 year “sweetheart” deal with Energy Australia was due to expire.  The deal had been a good one, with energy being provided at a 50% discount in return for the location of a substation within the facility. In addition to this, the pool heating was provided by an immersion coil (i.e. like a huge kettle), which was proving to be one of the most inefficient ways to heat water known to mankind.

It was obvious that something had to be done in order to prevent energy costs going up to $400,000 overnight.

Therefore, the main driver for the whole process of energy consumption redesign (which began 15 years ago) for WAC was the financial bottom line and not any altruistic motive of doing the right thing by the environment.

Which heating system to use?

I will not go into the relative merits of Solar, Heat Pumps, Cogeneration or Trigeneration (that is a separate discussion topic all of its own).  Suffice to say that after consultant reports and some detailed investigation, the decision was made at that time to install heat pumps at a cost of $125,000.

12 months after installation, energy costs had been reduced to $100,000 (even with the unit price doubling).  WAC began to see a return on investment within 18 months.

An opportunity for some learning?

We then had an unscheduled visit from Peter Dormand from the Australian Municipal Energy Improvement Facility (now known as Environment and Climate change services), which was part of Newcastle City Council.  We thought we knew a thing or two about saving energy and were somewhat skeptical about what he could teach us.  We only had half an hour walk around the facility but we learned more in that time than in the previous two years and resolved to enroll on his energy saving course, which is still being run to this day.

The main lessons that were learned and reinforced were as follows:

  • Metering

While it may sound like a real cliché, the old maxim of “If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” cannot be stressed enough when looking at energy and water saving measures.

We were fortunate at our facility in that at least we had basic metering of total usage of energy and water. Many facilities at that time (and probably even today) did not have responsibility for the metering and budget of the utilities for their facility.  If you do nothing else after reading this article, at least ensure that as soon as possible you get your facility metered and take control of the water and energy budget so that you at least have a starting point and can start to understand your current level of consumption.

  • Heat Exchangers

Whilst we were aware of the principle of heat exchangers, it was an eye opener to us just how many ways that our facility was wasting heat that could be reused through the heat exchange principle.

  • Power Factor Correction

We learned that Power Factor is a measure of how efficiently electrical power is consumed.   Anything less than one (or 100% efficiency), means that you are wasting power in much the same way as a leaking hose wastes water.  Essentially the current is not in phase with the voltage, and if that ratio is anything less than 100%, energy is leaking into the ground around your pool, which is undesirable on a number of levels

  • Variable Speed Motors

Through an improved understanding of how to read our energy meters we learned the significance of the “spike effect” of the start up of a motor without a variable speed drive and the effect this has on the average energy bill.

So what next?

Armed with all this information we needed to get our Council to commit some Capital expenditure for the energy and water improvements.

At this point the priority was determined to be energy saving since that was our main cost and the equivalent return on investment on water saving initiatives was approximately 30 years (since water was so cheap). Remember also that the worst of the drought had not yet impacted on the industry and consequently the political will for water saving was not by that time fully engaged.

  • Audit

Firstly we commissioned an energy audit of the WAC to get a clear and objective understanding of where our biggest energy losses were and what we could do about it. Most importantly however the Audit Report provided data, which could be referred to in any future Council reports and grant applications.  This was particularly powerful since it was evidence based and gave the report and applications more credibility.

  • Environmental Plan

Armed with the information from the Audit we developed an overall Environmental Plan for WAC, which covered not only what we planned to do to save energy and water but also considered our waste management, chemical controls and environmental education strategy.  This not only set out our strategic plan, but was also again a powerful tool in support of Council reports and grant applications requesting Capital funding. 

  • Triple Bottom Line

Whilst we are very familiar with the phrase “triple bottom line” now, it was introduced to Council at an early stage and has been a particular useful reference point for Councillors when comparing the many benefits of some of the proposals as they relate to Financial, Social and Environmental issues, and its relevance should not to be overlooked.

  • Soil testing to determine leakage

One of the first actions that was to have soil testing undertaken just to see what our Power Factor Correction (PFC) was.  I can still remember the shock when we learned that we were as low as 70% (i.e. wasting 30% of our energy).  With those figures we did not even need a full report to gain approval to spend $15,000 from Operational funds to install a piece of equipment that would save us approximately $60,000 per year.  The PFC unit was installed and our procurement process amended so that PFC was included on all electrical installations.  It paid for itself in three months, and WAC PFC efficiency went from 70% to 98%

  • Heat exchange systems

A heat exchanger was installed using water flowing from the pool back to the Heat Pumps.  A section of this line (27°C) was diverted to offer heat exchange to cold mains water (16°C), which was supplying the showers.  A Solar panel contributed two more degrees plus a Rotex system (now Inform Energy) was installed, which itself uses heat exchange from a return line from the showers to gain an extra 3°C.  This one example highlights the number of ways that heat exchange can be applied. The big lesson learned here and possibly one of our main regrets is that this particular line was not directly metered and we therefore cannot determine exactly what we have saved on this particular project. (We cannot say that we were not warned of this outcome on the course).

  • Further improvements

From this point on we did not necessarily set out to get funding for a specific project to save energy.  It was more of a change of thinking with regards to any equipment replacement or maintenance that we had to.

  • New lighting system

In 2002 the main lighting system was at the end of its life.  So it was a simple case, under the new procurement protocols to include power factor correction units on all installations.  It also included the flexibility of variable levels of lighting in the main pool hall, rather than “all on“ or “all off”.

In addition we installed movement detectors for lights in areas that were not used very often (such as toilets at the back of the grandstand).  This avoided the wastage of energy on lights that were left on and forgotten for maybe weeks at a time.

  • Kiosk hot water system

As part of the audit it was pointed out that the kiosk staff would routinely let the hot water run for up to two minutes waiting for the hot water to come through.  When the facility was built the hot water system was located next to the shower heating system (i.e. 55 meters from the kiosk).  So each time they did the washing up, they were using in excess of 120 litres of water, plus the wasted energy to heat the water.  The simple solution was a zip heater next to the Kiosk sink.  Problem solved. Not exactly rocket science but everyone has to be in the mindset of looking for savings.

  • Separate Reticulation for the outdoor pools.

The WAC has an indoor 50-meter pool, an outdoor 25-meter and toddler pool.  Initially these were all serviced by the one main reticulation system.  The indoor pool was linked to the outdoor pool by an attractive waterfall.  What was not realised until the audit was that the waterfall lost 15% of our energy costs on wasted heat.  It suddenly did not seem so attractive and therefore over two years the case was made to build separate reticulation for the three pools.

The most significant thing about that process was that it was not energy saving that got the project over the line.  At about the same time the Cryptosporidium outbreak hit Sydney and it was realised by Council that under the protocols the whole centre could be closed for extended periods if there were a faecal contamination in the toddler’s pool.  They approved the project immediately.  What this best illustrates is the importance of applying the Triple Bottom Line Principle (i.e. as far as Council were concerned this was not just an environmental outcome but also a Social and Financial outcome).  It should also be noted that the opportunity was taken to install solar heating panels on the roof of the main pool and the outdoor pools are now heated almost exclusively by solar energy. (A bottled gas system is ready as standby).

  • Variable speed drives on pumps

As a matter of course, any time that we are required to update any of our pumps, it is automatic under our procurement policy that Variable Speed Drives will be part of the specification.

  • Energy Performance Contract

Through Councils Sustainability planner a Council Energy Performance Contract, on behalf of the whole of Council was negotiated.  WAC was a beneficiary of this through the installation of the air handling heat exchange system.  All external air is now preheated by expelled air with 15% savings.

Total Energy Savings as a result of these initiatives

Energy saving at the WAC is 52% of what it was in 1998 and the actual expenditure as at July 2011 is the same as in July 1997.

The graph shows that energy consumption was lowest in 2002/2003.  To put this in context, since that time there have been a number of changes to systems that have required an increase in energy usage.  These include improved air handling plant and better customer comfort within the facility through better humidity control.  This reduced condensation level has also controlled the level of chloride penetration into the concrete structure of the building, thereby extending its life expectancy.

Also as you will see in the second part of this post on water saving (coming soon), there have been increased uses of energy on water saving processes.

As a result there is still much work to do particularly with regards to solar energy, so one of the specific current actions in the business plan is for staff to attend an update course just to see what the latest developments in energy saving in facilities are.

Have you had any similar successes with energy savings at your Leisure Facility?  If so, tell us about it in the comments below or consider becoming a Guest Blogger and providing a Case Study on your Leisure Facility.

See Water and Energy Saving in Aquatic Facilities – Case Study: Warringah Aquatic Centre (Part 2) to see how Warringah Aquatic Centre has reduced its water consumption.

Gary Penfold

Gary Penfold (Manager of Warringah Aquatic Centre) has worked in the Recreation Industry since 1980 in a range of areas including Sports Development, Dry Facility Management, Special Events and Aquatic Facility Management. Gary has contributed to the development of the industry through various voluntary roles during this time, including: ARI NSW Executive Committee, ARI Training Committee, National Water Safety Council, ARI Conference and Magazine committees. A former ARI President for three years, Gary Penfold currently holds the position of Chair of ALFA.

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