Since the launch of parent company 21st Century Fox’s corporate sustainability program in 2007, 20th Century Fox has become an industry leader in environmentally responsible film and television production. The studio has introduced a number of innovative sustainability practices to its on-location shoots, as well as its production campus at the Fox Studios Lot in Los Angeles. In particular, Fox Studios was selected in November 2010 for an innovative multi-year project with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Partnership to address the environmental impacts generated by its productions. Many of the soundstages on the Fox Lot were constructed as early as the 1920s, and their unusual use and load characteristics make it difficult to accurately measure and manage their energy consumption. However, the in-depth analysis provided by the experts from the DOE allowed Fox to take a considerable step forward in mitigating its unique sustainability challenges.
As part of the program, top scientists and engineers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) provided detailed energy tracking of the stages at Fox Studios and proposed an innovative set of sustainability measures to increase their efficiency, including upgrades to LED lighting and major retrofits to the cooling systems. The three-year project, which included a multi-million dollar investment from Fox, has yielded energy savings of more than 2.6 million kilowatt hours per year, cost savings of approximately $1,000 per day, and CO2 emissions reductions of 1,081 tonnes per year. In addition, Fox committed to releasing these findings publicly, equipping the film industry at large with critical resources for building a more sustainable, responsible business.
The DOE launched the Commercial Buildings Partnership in 2010 as a way to encourage market leaders to adopt energy-saving technologies and practices. Rather than offer direct funding, the program provides businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions with access to state-of-the-art technical guidance from America’s foremost designers and researchers. Fox was one of only three commercial businesses–and the only film studio–selected for this partnership and was paired not only with leading scientists at LBNL but also with consultants from Arup, Glumac, and the Constructive Technologies Group (CTG). By working with organizations like Fox, which has a large campus of buildings ranging in size and age, the DOE is able to develop the most proficient and nuanced sustainability measures for use across the American private sector.
The technical team spent the first phase of the project monitoring energy use across the Fox Studios Lot to both establish a baseline and determine how energy use was distributed among the lot’s various operations. They discovered early on that production lighting draws the majority of the power at the soundstages. Filming requires the sustained use of powerful, high-quality lighting equipment, and the lights generate a considerable amount of heat, meaning that they not only draw power themselves but also force the stages’ cooling system to work that much harder. Since a viable energy-efficient alternative to production lights has yet to be identified, the team determined that the lot’s cooling system showed the most potential for energy saving.
However, as the team studied the system and the stages it serves, challenges began to mount. The stages, many of which were built during the 1920s, consist of large, single-zone spaces without windows and with limited insulation, and despite their 40-50 foot ceilings, cooling needs to occur at floor level. In addition, the sets constructed within the stage space often obstruct the flow of air, and the cooling system is frequently turned off during filming due to the high level of noise it creates. As a result, the stages are regularly over-cooled to accommodate for the disruptions in cooling.
Furthermore, the design of the cooling system itself contained several inefficiencies. A Fox, two Central Plants cool two-thirds of the buildings on the lot, including many of the stages, via independently operated chilled water systems, meaning that all three systems were often operating at 100% capacity. In addition, on hot days and when all stages were in use, there was not enough chilled water to effectively cool the stages and offices, creating the need for supplemental portable HVAC units, the use of which demands significantly more power than the chillers.
To address these issues, the team selected three locations as test sites: one large production stage, one medium-sized production stage, and Central Plant 1 (CP1), which provides cooling from two 300-ton chillers via two separate chilled water loops: one open and the other closed.
Once the test sites were selected, the team set the following four goals to increase the efficiency of the chiller systems while also distributing the air more efficiently around the stage space:
- Substantially increase energy efficiency in the operation of both Central Plants
- Provide much-needed redundancy in the operation of the chillers themselves
- More effectively provide air conditioning to the stages and offices connected to the Central Plants
- Increase capacity so that more buildings can be brought onto the Central Plant chillers, which are more efficient that packaged air conditioning units
Following the initial period of data gathering and energy modeling, the team developed a set energy efficiency measures (EEMs) for the studio to implement at the Central Plants. The project consisted of three phases over several years:
Phase 1: Data Collection and Energy Modelling – 2010-2011
- Determine heat gain from production and house lighting, allowing for variables such as shooting schedules, production size, and outdoor temperature
- Monitor stages’ energy consumption patterns and ascertain how stages influence CP1
- Create models for retrofits that offer both energy and cost savings
Phase 2: Implementation of EEMs – 2011-2012
- Replace single-speed controls for the chillers and pumps with variable-speed controls, which would allow the plant to run more efficiently at part-load operation
- Install staging and temperature reset controls for the condenser water pumps to limit operation to efficient zones of their performance curves
- Increase chiller capacity by adding a new 750-ton chiller to the CP1 plant room, providing a welcome level of system redundancy
- Connect the two closed-loop systems and manage from one central location
- Over time, take lot buildings off the open-loop system and add them to the closed-loop system
- Replace existing house lighting with LED and CFL fixtures
- Replace existing air-handling units and include automatic air-side economizer, which helps the system regulate airflow in the stage space and distribute air to the needed areas
- Replace direct-evaporative cooling with closed circuit chilled water coil, transferring this load from the open-loop chilled water system to the more efficient closed-loop system.
Phase 3: Final Data Collection – 2012-2013
- Repeat data collection processes from Phase 1 and measure the difference in energy use and cost following the implementation of EEMs
- Release findings publicly to allow similar campuses, such as universities, to implement similar retrofits
Phase 4: Utilize Findings – Ongoing
- Replicate the work from CP1 and the test stages at the other buildings on the lot
The technical expertise from the engineers at the National Laboratory allowed for detailed energy measurement and cost savings analysis. The retrofits reduced energy use by 29% annually at the large production stage, 6% at the medium stage, and 55% at the central cooling plant. These reductions were initially estimated to save Fox upwards of 1.3 million kWh per year in electricity use, as well as more than $160,000 per year in energy costs. However, since completing the program, the studio has also moved one of its office buildings and another soundstage from the open- to the closed-loop cooling system and has upgraded to LED lighting on all but 5 of its stages. These additional projects have brought total savings from the DOE partnership up to 2.6 million kWh per year, which equates to cost savings of more than $1,000 per day. CO2 emissions have been reduced by 1,081 tonnes per year.
At this rate, the upgrades to CP1 paid for themselves within three years. The payback time for the lighting and HVAC upgrades at the smaller production stage is 4 years, and the large production stage has a payback time of 18 years. The studio plans to move two more of its stages to the closed-loop system by the end of the current fiscal year.
As Fox continues to replicate the EEMs at more and more buildings across the studio lot, the company also released its findings publicly to allow the rest of the film industry to undergo similar retrofits. The DOE has said that the EEMs implemented at CP1 are applicable to any large campus, office, or higher education facility, meaning that the work done at Fox will continue to resonate across multiple industries for years to come.