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Building Owners Need To Decarbonize. Is A Managed Central Plant The Answer?


Building owners across the U.S. are being sent a clear message: It’s time to increase your decarbonization efforts. 

Whether the demand is coming from environmentally conscious tenants or from legislation in several states, building owners are feeling pressured to do more to reduce their carbon footprint. 

“Building owners want to engage in greater decarbonization efforts, but it’s challenging,” said Jake Buckner, vice president of sales and marketing at TEAL. “This can be an expensive, complex process, particularly for owners of older buildings who need to update existing systems.”

TEAL got its start supplying managed, central domestic hot water systems to multifamily developers. Today, the company provides a software-defined mechanical ecostructure through its unique central plant as a service model, which is capable of delivering domestic hot water, space heating and chilled water for air conditioning to buildings of all sizes. TEAL has clients in multifamily, commercial office, education, healthcare, senior living centers, student housing and hospitality. The company is also branching out into innovative power solutions including generators, solar-powered renewable energy options and battery storage to help owners reach their sustainability goals.

Buckner said that on the cooling side, TEAL’s chilled water system offers a more energy-efficient solution. HVAC systems are the largest consumers of energy in commercial buildings, typically accounting for 40% of the total energy consumption, so even a small reduction can make a big difference, especially over the course of the life of a building. 

On the hot water side, Buckner said, TEAL’s boiler plants are designed to last 22 to 25 years, and for multifamily projects, they eliminate the need for installing individual electric water heaters in every unit. Most people expect to get seven to 10 years of life out of an electric water heater, compared to the two-plus decades of life they can get out of TEAL’s central boiler system, he said. 

“You would have to replace the original water heater at least twice in the lifespan of our system,” Buckner said. “If you have a 300-unit building, every time you replace those heaters you’re going to be generating up to 45,000 pounds of scrap metal that’s just going to the dump. From a carbon footprint standpoint, that’s astronomical.” 

He said this is why many municipalities’ codes require buildings to choose longer-lasting, more efficient equipment. But it isn’t just about buildings meeting government standards; many companies also have internal carbon-reduction targets they are hoping to hit as part of their environmental, social and governance goals. Additionally, many investors and equity partners are pushing developers to meet sustainability goals to make buildings a more attractive long-term investment. 

“There can be different motivations and drivers for decarbonization,” Buckner said. “Our goal is to work with developers and building owners on both new and retrofit projects to help them figure out the best way to achieve their goals while always understanding that most people don't have blank checkbooks, so they need to do it in an economical way.” 

He added that for areas that are trying to move away from natural gas, TEAL offers an all-electric heat pump option for hot water and will be providing its first system like this for an upcoming multifamily project in Denver.

Buckner said that there is a lot of energy-efficient equipment on the market but what sets TEAL apart is the proprietary energy management system it provides with every plant, along with the 24/7 monitoring it offers through its Virtual Supervisor. This system allows for what Buckner calls “continuous commissioning” because the TEAL team is constantly monitoring everything and predictively maintaining equipment so it remains at its peak efficiency. 

Most companies operate on a “break-fix” model, whereas TEAL takes a proactive approach, he said. Instead of embracing reactive maintenance, the company uses a predictive-maintenance model to prevent failures before they occur. He said this is one of the reasons it has been able to maintain an uptime record for its systems of 99% over the last 18 years.

The company is working with development firm Midway on a new mixed-use development in Houston called East River, where it will also be moving its headquarters next year. 

“This is a ground-up 150-acre mixed-use development and they are using our systems for the air conditioning for their first three office buildings, and for the hot water on their multifamily building, all of which is under construction right now,” Buckner said. “They are also talking to us about utilizing our microgrid that includes solar power, batteries and generators.” 

The University of Texas is conducting a study to evaluate the carbon impact of multifamily buildings, specifically the difference between using central boilers like the kind that TEAL offers versus individual electric water heaters. Buckner said its early findings show that individual electric water heaters would have a 50% greater carbon footprint than a central boiler system.

“Add to that our energy monitoring controls, and that carbon usage could go down an additional 25%,” he said. “These systems are clearly the smarter choice for the environment, and for carbon-conscious owners and developers.” 

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and TEAL. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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