The Mechanical Engineering Building - A Live-In Lab for Building Energy Systems

The UNM Mechanical Engineering building was designed in the late 1970s in response to the continuing energy crises of that decade, and was meant to be a showcase of modern energy efficiency technologies and to be a living laboratory where faculty and students could learn and innovate by direct experience. Then the 1980s happened, and concerns about energy efficiency and renewable energy were soon forgotten. With the 'help' of complicated and unreliable controls, the advanced energy systems in the ME building were also progressively abanoned.

In 2005, funds were obtained fron the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department to refurbish the solar-assisted HVAC. Additional funds from UNM Physical Plant Department, DoE, Energy Control Inc. and Yearout Mechanical meant that a full modernization of the building's thermal energy systems, including modern digital controls throughout.

Currently, the building hosts a 170 kWth solar array, a 1.25 GJ hot storage tank, a total of 14 GJ of cold storage, a lithium bromide absorption chiller, six fully instrumented air handlers, approximately 70 zone air delivery units, and a sophisticated direct digital control system, as illustrated in Fig. 3.5.

Research programs were attracted by the building almost since the beginning of the refurbishment. The Electric Power Research Institute and PNM were interested in how to use the building';s energy storage to balance intermittent renewable energy power. With Lawrence Berkeley Lab, the building is being used as a testbed for optimizing the scheduling of distributed energy systems. The building is also currently serving as a testbed for artificial-intelligence based energy system monitoring and fault detection.

solar array

Figure 3.5: Mechnical Engineering building mechanical room layout (top) and solar-assisted HVAC schematic (bottom).