Active Efficiency in Action

The best way to understand the value of Active Efficiency is to see it in action. There are many examples that demonstrate the potential of Active Efficiency. Between the economic, social, and environmental benefits, the hard work that goes into making these examples successful is something to be celebrated.

Kent State University Central Plant Optimization: Ratcheting Up Energy & Cost Savings

Kent State University in Northeast Ohio is a living example of how to boost savings by integrating digital technologies with traditional energy efficiency measures, i.e. by taking an Active Efficiency approach. A longtime passenger on the energy efficiency train, Kent State had already lowered its energy use intensity to 24% less than peer universities by 2016, but wanted to push the envelope further. To reap deeper savings, Kent State invested in model predictive controls in 2016 that integrated its building systems to respond dynamically to energy needs. The investment in the controls alone led to estimated savings of $470,000 in annual utility costs by November 2018.

The success of the Active Efficiency measures taken in this project go beyond energy savings:

  • The cost savings help Kent State keep tuition as low as possible for its 36,000 students.
  • The new technology reduces the burden of energy management on maintenance staff and helps inform the maintenance schedule for critical equipment.
  • The energy savings also reduces stress on the grid by decreasing peak demand.

Learn more below about how Active Efficiency elements and key enablers made this project and its numerous outcomes possible.


“It’s very rewarding when you can take the same footprint of a campus and drastically reduce the amount of money it takes to operate that campus while still maintaining comfort in all the buildings so students, researchers, employees, and visitors have an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.”

– Robert Misbrener, Project Manager II, Office of the University Architect, Kent State University

How does this project exemplify Active Efficiency?

The Johnson Controls Central Plant Optimization™ (CPO) technology used at Kent State applies predictive controls to support its central utility plant’s energy management system. These model predictive controls feature two key elements of Active Efficiency:

  1. Time-dependent response: The CPO technology predicts campus loads and energy prices, using a combination of weather forecasts and demand response signals from utility systems.
  2. Systems integration: The CPO technology uses the forecasted data to make decisions on equipment operation that reduce both energy demand and costs. Equipment is coordinated across campus cooling, heating, and power generation systems, involving more than 90 buildings (6 million ft2) and seven district energy plants.

“This system brings together all seven separate chiller plants into one platform that we can view easily, simultaneously, and from any remote location. Then it finds the optimal solution across the system and accounts for changes every 15 minutes. That’s something we just couldn’t do manually.” 

– Dr. Frank Renovich, Associate Director of Energy Operations

By combining real-time data with predictive models, the system can consider both near- and long-term grid conditions when making decisions about the campus’ energy use. The predictive controls can modify demand to match market prices, i.e. optimize energy use by reducing demand and/or shifting loads to different times.

The seven-day outlook of the CPO system also enables operators to optimize equipment maintenance schedules to ensure maintenance does not interfere with critical campus operations.

What factors made this project a success?

Kent State achieved its goal to maintain a comfortable environment for students and employees while continuing to reduce its energy consumption from 2016 levels. Coordinating critical stakeholders and leveraging funding mechanisms were essential for achieving the savings, maintenance, and grid benefits of the CPO system. The key enablers of this project include:

  • Internal buy-in. Central plant operators and energy managers at Kent State already saw the value in continued improvements to energy management before embarking on this project. Kent State has long demonstrated its commitment to energy efficiency, such as through receiving LEED certification for 14 buildings including the first LEED Platinum building among Ohio public universities.
  • Funding mechanisms & partnerships. Kent State entered an energy savings performance contract with Brewer-Garrett, an energy services company, which chose to implement Johnson Controls’ CPO technology. The performance contract guarantees energy cost savings. Performance-based financial support can be particularly well-suited for Active Efficiency measures that are often more complex – involving multiple systems and/or emerging technologies – to help mitigate risk in energy efficiency investments.

These factors were vital in enabling commercially available technology to be actionably deployed. This project at Kent State contains important lessons that could be applied to similar Active Efficiency strategies leveraging time-of-use rates: partnerships with time‐of‐use experts, funding mechanisms that reduce risk; and executive‐level prioritization of energy management.