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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Project managers provide updates on UC Davis’ ‘Big Shift’ toward energy efficiency

The construction project replaces central heating system components on campus

By KRISTIN TRENT — campus@theaggie.org


Undergoing project renovations since spring of 2020, the Big Shift is a major on-campus construction project near the UC Davis Quad. The project was proposed in accordance with the 2010 UC Davis Climate Action Plan, aiming to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions. It is expected to cost the university $55 million, according to Associate Director and Big Shift Project Manager Dan Golde. 

“The careful, independent study demonstrated that the wisest choice fiscally was to move from steam to low-temperature hot water, which is expected to save the campus significant expenses in fuel, water and maintenance costs over the project’s lifespan,” said Joshua Morejohn, the energy manager for UC Davis.

Once the project is completed, Morejohn estimates the campus’ carbon footprint could be reduced by as much as 40%. 

Specifically, the project involves installing two heat distribution exchangers to replace the inefficient technology. As a result, supply and return piping will also need to be replaced, totaling to four miles of tubing which connect the heat supply to campus buildings. Within campus buildings, the pre-existing systems will also need to be exchanged to connect property to the new technology.

 The Climate Action Plan identifies the central heating and cooling system as one of the university’s largest emitters of greenhouse gas. The old steam powered system relied on fossil fuel to generate heat via steam which requires natural gas. The new system relies on hot water instead, heated by electricity. The Big Shift’s website explains that the steam reliant heating and cooling system installed 75 years ago on campus is inefficient, losing 30-50% of generated heat. 

Due to the project’s large size, areas of campus will be renovated at different times to keep campus operations up and running. 

“Right now the bulk of the work is occurring in the East Quad and Shields Ave area, bringing hot water to Shields Library and the group of buildings to the east of the Quad,” Golde said. “The final two lateral pipelines to be installed during spring quarter will be at [the] Chemistry and Sciences Lab Building. These pipelines were saved for last, as the mechanical systems in these two buildings will be converted from steam to hot water in subsequent construction projects, making them a lower priority for this phase.”

The campus will create detours for students, staff and faculty in the upcoming months to avoid construction areas. The Big Shift’s website has a detour map that lists current closures and detours for convenience. The website also features an interactive map that lists active, upcoming and completed construction. 

“I encourage everyone to leave extra time to get around campus,” Senior Communications Manager Katie Hetrick said. 

As a result of the construction, buildings are marked with signs that say “dress in layers.” Most recently, Hart Hall has displayed these signs at its entrance, warning students and staff of temperature changes they may experience during modification to the building’s heating system.

“There are many factors that affect how quickly this transition takes place,” said Big Shift Building Conversion Project Manager Alan Suleiman. “The mechanical rooms in our buildings are complicated mazes of pipes so building conversion timelines vary. During this time, occupants will be without heat and in some cases, hot water, while the contractors complete the connection.”

After components of the system are exchanged, the next step will be surface restoration which includes concrete and landscape crews, according to Golde.

“The landscapes along North Quad, MU Bookstore and Young Hall courtyards were just recently restored and are looking great – the fence around the fresh sod grass will be down just in time for Picnic Day,” Golde said. “The crews are moving on to new areas and we are looking forward to seeing the balance of the areas impacted by the project all restored by mid-summer.” 


Written by: Kristin Trent — campus@theaggie.org




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