Christopher French is freelance writer on renewables/water/wastewater. French can be reached at [email protected].
Despite the stop-start trials and tribulations of the COVID-affected 2020 and 2021, the retrofit at The Oxfordshire Golf Hotel and Spa has already seen its thermal energy demand reduced by 93%.
A groundbreaking project that flies in the face of "rip it up and start again," the venue, built in 1994, now has an energy demand input of less than 100kWh, compared to its previous load requirement of 1,410 kWh.
How Did The Oxfordshire Reduce Energy Demand Input?
The Oxfordshire’s General Manager, Ryan Bezuidenhout teamed up with Geyser Thermal Energy to use the natural resources on site; primarily connecting heat pumps to one of the venue’s four lakes.
Geyser’s founder, Lolli Olafsson, is keen to point out that what is happening at The Oxfordshire is not all about numbers. Nonetheless, in what is possibly the biggest ever energy-efficiency improvement for a building(s) of its age:
- Oil use for the boilers has been reduced by 75%.
- Replacing water softeners with Next Scale Stop has reduced water waste by 20% and also means less brine is being discharged. Cleaner water also means pumps are now 15% more efficient from not having to pump solid particles.
- New direct-drive fans in the air handling units (replacing old belt-driven units) are 20% more efficient. Chillers that required 250kw are now gone, with the new heat pumps able to provide cooling.
“This retrofit is a very unorthodox option that isn’t for everybody”, said Ryan Bezuidenhout. “Essentially, we should be all about selling tee times to golfers and hotel rooms — but when I was appointed here almost three years ago, I had to take a long, hard and holistic view about how we could make our business more resilient and sustainable. At the end of the day, we’re an SME where every penny counts, so I analyzed all of our cost centers to see where we could make the most impact for the quickest possible win. Adding more hotel rooms would seem an obvious option, but it was clear to see that we needed to use our natural resources and free ourselves from the sky-rocketing bills of the utility companies. I’m all for protecting our planet, but let’s be totally honest here. Going green was a welcome bi-product of what was a very necessary commercial decision”.
The redesign by Geyser Thermal Energy has included a new Building Management System. The Oxfordshire already had one for the hotel and a separate unit for the main building. Manual overrides had long since become the modus operandi, so getting the now three systems to work together has been one of the most challenging aspects of the retrofit.
“It’s meant being very patient,” Bezuidenhout said, “but instead of us all having to physically check up on various rooms in the buildings, at the click of a mouse I can now see on a browser how all the equipment is performing and tweak where necessary, so again, we’re in a much better place than we were before. When we first started seeing the heat meters running, it was magic.”
Leveraging the Power of Natural Resources
Tabling a proposal to a board of directors to dig up and cut through 625 yards of precious, almost sacred golf territory, requires exquisite timing, but Bezuidenhout — an undoubted disrupter, presented his case with aplomb — sharing a firm belief with Geyser Energy that despite long-held business opinions about the built environment, it is possible to harness natural resources to significantly reduce energy, which then saves and prolongs the lifetime of older buildings.
A few innocent buoys on the largest of The Oxfordshire’s four lakes is now the only hint to a golfer that something might be going on, as the water is now used for two 2,000-litre thermal heating and cooling stores in the upgraded plant room, which also now contains a cylinder for the Next Scalestop water treatment system.
“We are extremely proud of what is being achieved at The Oxfordshire, where the heating is now switched on all the time, but with set-back temperatures of 16 to 17 degrees," said Lolli Olafsson from Geyser. "Yet, the venue’s heating and cooling demand isn’t just some minor change of 10 to 15 points; it’s a whopping 93% less than what it used to be. Ryan [Bezuidenhout] has to take huge credit for paving the way in showing what a business can achieve with a retrofit.”
“Older buildings can be notorious for being expensive to operate and difficult to upgrade to modern standards, hence such a focus on technology for new-build," he added. "Solutions for the millions of older buildings in the world usually tend to be extremely expensive or very limited to smaller components with little real effect, so almost all them remain trapped as prisoners of soaring energy costs. The solution at The Oxfordshire required a deep understanding of system integration. Ryan set the target very high, to reduce energy costs and increase profits by 30% — and despite plenty of obstacles, there has been a willingness, enthusiasm and vision from both parties achieve sustainable long-term goals.”
Despite progress made, there is still more work in store in order to continue to increase efficiencies.
“There is still more for us to do, including better, more energy efficient lighting, as well as fitting more economical taps and showerheads, there are several options we are exploring," Bezuidenhout said. “We have the peace of mind of being paid every quarter for the next 20 years through the RHI. Seeing all of this join up is very special. It proves that you don’t have to start all over again from scratch. For our buildings here which are close to 30 years old, this is a giant leap forward in energy efficiency, which very much protects the future of our business.”