“Smart buildings” meet “smart grid” in ground-breaking McKinstry project

November 2012


McKinstry’s innovative work on “smart” facilities at the University of Washington is officially under way. The metering and monitoring that McKinstry is providing is central to managing energy usage in new, more effective ways.

October 24 marked the kick-off for the data-gathering portion of the $10.2 million “smart grid” demonstration project, which began in November 2009 as part of a regional effort to empower consumers and utilities with information about their energy usage, ultimately making it easier to conserve. The metering used in the demonstration project could scale nationally and have a huge impact on energy efficiency across the country.

The UW project will save the university at least $350,000 a year on power bills. It is one of just 11 subprojects in a $178 million regional Smart Grid Demonstration program approved and funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy. The regional program will create 1,500 jobs, including 500 in Washington, according to U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who is a sponsor of the project.

The UW launch event was attended by McKinstry Vice President Ash Awad; U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray; University of Washington Provost Ana Mari Cauce; and representatives of Battelle and the Bonneville Power Authority, as well as project team members, students and other guests. 

Awad emphasized the significance of McKinstry’s work in creating and advancing these high-tech solutions to facilities management.

“We’re excited about this project moving forward,” he said. “It is a great example of how empowering building operators and occupants to make smarter decisions helps to maintain efficiencies. We look forward to seeing how this demonstration project unfolds in these next few years, and what lessons and opportunities will the result.”


The project is a truly integrated effort, involving the team contributions of McKinstry’s smart-building, electrical and facility services. As one of the largest monitoring jobs undertaken by the company to date, this project involves installation of more than 200 “smart” electric meters; upgrades to the building-management systems of 33 campus facilities; installation of new data-management equipment; and installation of monitoring and control equipment in two lab or classroom buildings and two dormitories. The project is expected to meet the following goals:

  •   Reduce campus energy consumption
  •   Upgrade utility and building infrastructure
  •   Enhance infrastructure reliability and security
  •   Provide data for program-based budgeting
  •   Enhance UW education and spur future academic research opportunities
  •   Raise conservation awareness on campus and in the community


The “smart meters” across campus will provide precise, real-time details on energy consumption to the university’s central power distribution center every 15 minutes. They will act as two-way devices that allow managers of power-distribution systems to automatically adjust energy sources in response to consumption needs and market prices at that moment. Students in selected UW residence halls will have access to high-tech personal energy dashboards, floor-by-floor energy use displays, smart plugs, web-based education tools, social media and opportunities to participate in energy conservation education. The goal is to reduce energy waste and determine what strategies will prove most effective over time in achieving carbon reduction goals.

“The University of Washington is recognized as a national leader in sustainability within the higher education community,” noted UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce. “The Smart Grid Project provides an exciting opportunity for testing how 21st century technology can reduce energy consumption. Given our students’ keen interest in the environment, it is appropriate that much of our research on smart grids will occur within our residence halls and that the initial research will be conducted by UW graduate students.”

McKinstry is helping the project to procure $4.47 million in grants, as well as in-kind contributions of $463,600. The effort has a proposed utility rebate of $500,000. The project is guaranteed to save $356,929 in utility costs annually and is expected to save approximately $1.15 million annually after the first year of active monitoring of the building electrical meters.

To learn more, please contact Brian Hanson


Smart grid pilot project debuting at University of Washington


Going live with a smarter electric grid

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

 UW plugs in to “smart grid” regional power use experiment

The Seattle Times


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