Victoria Racing Club Sets the Pace in the Energy Efficiency Saving Stakes

In the lead up to the 2011 Melbourne Cup Carnival, the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) trusted their long time air conditioning and buildings services partner, AE Smith, to design a pilot program and install an automation system on select refrigeration plant at Flemington Racecourse. The results? Day one energy savings of 94% in refrigerated energy consumption and running costs

26 May 2012
This VRC pilot project is the first of its kind and is aimed at providing on-going energy savings by intelligent control of the refrigeration equipment at Flemington Racecourse.

Given the nature of the facility, the refrigeration plant was generally only required during major functions at the racecourse, yet the plant operated under constant full-refrigerated conditions 24 hours a day.

“It’s a really diverse venue and our aim is to be a venue of choice that is recognised for more than racing,” said Executive General Manager of Flemington Mark Davies.

“Being a venue the size that we are and being such an iconic site we wanted to make sure that the way we ran our business was environmentally sustainable. Over the last few years we have focused on saving water and waste. Now we are focused on saving energy.

“We’ve been working with AE Smith for many years now. In particular we have been working on ways to reduce our energy usage after an audit in 2011 showed just how much of our consumption was related to HVAC and refrigeration. It is our third biggest user of energy,” said Mark.

Mark, who has spent nine years with the VRC, the last two in his current role, said he began talks with AE Smith in June.

“Our challenge to AE Smith was how to best manage peak demand and cool room temperatures in such a way that it was still safe for food with no wastage or spoilage; while at the same time reduce our running costs and energy consumption.

“AE Smith took the time to hear what was really important to us and find the right outcome. They came back with a tailored solution that resulted in a pilot program we decided to trial for a few months. During the trial we saw exactly what our energy habits were and saw what a big difference the solution they came up with made. We also got our catering suppliers involved to make sure we optimised the cooling temperature for service.

“We were surprised by how much energy could be saved by varying the temperature by only a few degrees. We knew it didn’t make sense to run the fridges at maximum cooling capacity 24/7, yet we needed to find the right balance and, importantly, automate the process. AE Smith helped us achieve this perfectly.”

Mark added that being able to control and monitor refrigeration plant via the Internet has also proved invaluable. 

“The trial showed that we were conservatively saving energy between 20 per cent and 22 per cent and that was during our peak periods. We expect to find even greater savings as we continue to test more often during non-peak times.”

Mark said the next step is to roll out the program across all refrigeration equipment at Flemington, further reducing power usage and the workload of the equipment. 

“The latter wasn’t a direct goal yet we can see how reducing the workload of the plant and equipment will mean it enjoys greater longevity and saves on maintenance costs too. That was a nice surprise – more productivity and fewer breakdowns.

“Being involved in this trial means we are helping to set a benchmark in the field of refrigeration. Being innovative is important to us, not only to save costs but also to benefit the community by being a sustainable business that is kinder to the environment. We look forward to further savings and a reduction of our carbon footprint.

“With any supplier that you use you want to get to a stage where you have a partnership and I think this is an example of two like-minded organisations getting together in a way that is much more than a pure transaction. We are working together to solve problems and AE Smith is more than just a supplier; they are part of the team.”

From the data gathered since the trial began in September 2011, AE Smith say the project is a first step to implementing sophisticated energy management systems and technology that covers not only refrigeration, but all aspects of the Flemington facility.

“We developed the Energy Saving Refrigeration System with quite a bit of lateral thinking on our design team’s part,” said AE Smith National Sales Manager and pilot champion, Brad Disher.

“By marrying several pre-existing state of the art systems, we were able to achieve the outcome the VRC were looking for with many additional benefits that weren’t even part of the initial design brief.

“To design this system our engineers took into consideration the entire Flemington site, both as it is today and where it is likely to be in the future.”

AE Smith say the proprietary Energy Saving Refrigeration System piloted at Flemington is intuitive by design. It allows the refrigeration plant to go into energy saving mode when the system is not required, then cooling down to normal operating temperature several days prior to an event and continuing to run as normal for several days after an event, at which point energy saving mode begins again. 

“On the first day of the trial we only used 6 per cent energy so that was a 94 per cent saving in energy consumption in just one day,” said Brad. “It is a huge saving, especially when you consider the size of some of the cool rooms at Flemington Racecourse.

“Based on these results, we anticipate the VRC can save up to 60 per cent in energy over the course of a year. This will easily equate to tens of thousands of dollars in real savings, not to mention the compressed payback period. Even for venues that do run 24/7, they can still expect to save about 10 to 15 per cent of their current costs.

“We believe the best part of the system is the interface,” said Brad, “which gives users the freedom to log into the system via the Internet to control and monitor all system components when and if required. Users can easily export trend data for one or more cool rooms, allowing users to accurately report on their energy usage today, last week or last month.”

Brad, who has a background in refrigeration, air conditioning and electrical, was part of the developmental team that created the proprietary Energy Saving Refrigeration System. AE Smith adapted existing building management technology that was previously only available to HVAC and building services, and integrated refrigeration devices to get a superior level of control and reporting on one single system.

“VRC is typical of the issues faced by many venues where refrigeration is needed perhaps once a week with anywhere up to a month gap between events. In the meantime cool rooms are idly working away, consuming energy and wearing themselves out. And it’s not as simple as saying ‘well I will just turn it off’. Turning off the fridge to save power gives birth to a whole bunch of other issues in a commercial environment like Flemington Racecourse: mould, odour, ice build-up (from condensation which freezes upon resumption of normal operation) and taking out excess stock until the next event is very labour intensive.

“The Energy Saving Refrigeration System logs the temperature continuously and when it passes a present threshold the system will send an alert via email, SMS or even Twitter to notify you of a problem. We can even record and trend when the door has been left open too long. The facility manager now knows exactly when food spoilage has occurred and can track back to who, if anyone, was responsible. Without this system they wouldn’t know until it was too late.

“There are industry horror stories of $100,000 plus worth of fresh seafood going off because a fridge decided to stop working or someone accidentally left the door open. Now you can monitor all of this in real time online. You can interact with the system the same way you would if you were standing right in front of the cool room.”

AE Smith say the technology has huge potential for all medium to large public venues such as sport stadiums, aquatic facilities, casinos, pubs and clubs, hotels, conference centres, libraries, museums, art galleries and performing art venues.

AE Smith are currently trialling other energy saving systems to suit smaller public venues such as restaurants.

“We want to help people conserve energy wherever possible. We’re delighted with the outstanding results the Energy Saving Refrigeration System has achieved for the VRC, but we’re excited because it’s only the tip of the iceberg,” Brad said.

“Our team is already pushing the System to provide extra benefits to our customers who trust us to help them save energy. For the right customer, soon there’ll be new tools like predictive efficiency analysis, condition-based maintenance and contractor performance management tools. Each building on a foundation of energy saving systems and practices; all designed to reduce costs.

“Significantly, we believe the Energy Saving Refrigeration System helps the VRC to not only deliver better than expected energy savings, but also provides immediate and tangible benefits to the way VRC proactively manages their facility,” concludes Brad.