What Is School Energy Management & What Are the Top Benefits of an Effective Program?
By Tony Erickson
EVP, Services and Operations
Energy expenses represent the second highest cost for schools across the country. It is second only to labor costs, which include teacher salaries. Increasing energy rates imply fewer available resources for improving student condition and learning potential. Fortunately, school energy management and its benefits can provide a safety net against rising prices, deficit funding and deteriorating buildings. School Facility Managers need to take the time to understand this program and what it means for their districts.
How Do You Define School Energy Management?
School energy management is simply the ability to track energy usage throughout a school and conserve it with an end goal of reducing energy costs. Instead of thinking about energy management, use energy conservation in its place as a more active way to communicate to staff and students the desired goal of energy reduction. The apparent implication of school energy management is reducing the amount of energy the school needs while improving the energy efficiency of school assets. Meanwhile, school officials that work to encourage energy conservation among students and faculty can realize even more significant benefits, such as funding new build-outs, extracurricular programs and technology for the classroom, reports HARC Research.
What Does a Comprehensive School Energy Management Program Look Like?
Modern energy management is about much more than merely tracking the overall amount of energy use in a facility. While an education Facility Manager can monitor the amount of water used, wastewater disposal, electricity use, and runtime of facility assets, modern energy management includes a host of advanced technologies. These technologies include machine learning, the Internet of Things, big data, analytics, and the introduction of an assistive element, the on-site energy specialist, to optimize savings.
As explained by Energati.com, the use of these technologies can provide real-time visibility into facility assets, leverage data to streamline maintenance and reduce the impact and frequency of disruptions. The implementation of sensors throughout the school is one aspect of the application of such technologies, but connected technology can also be used for remote management and control of facility assets. Of course, artificial intelligence and machine learning can optimize asset settings, based on the environment. As a result, overall savings increase.
Best Practices in Developing a School Energy Management Program
It can seem like the only wrong way to implement a school energy management program is to do nothing. However, the wrong steps in implementation or failure to recognize critical weaknesses can add to expenses and provide little benefit. To prevent costs from spiraling out of control, school Facility Managers should follow these best practices:
Start small, and let the data do the talking. Unless funds are readily available, creating a school energy management program will receive resistance from the school board who may view the initiative as added overhead. However, Facility Managers that start small, focusing on the savings potential of a single upgrade or action and how it will save money are more likely to secure approval. Tracking data also ensures the action-plan is implemented on-time and within the allocated budget, explains the Environmental Protection Agency.
Retrocommission facility assets with smart sensors to track data. Retro-commissioned facilities come at a fraction of the cost of installing new, IoT-enabled systems. Wi-Fi and existing networks make retro-commissions easier and faster than ever before.
Add occupancy and natural-light sensors for lighting controls. Occupancy sensors are an easy way to ensure lights are only used when necessary and when someone is actually in the room. At the same time, taking advantage of natural light is a great way to conserve energy.
Get students on-board. Student approval plays a considerable role in programs that get the "green light," pardon the pun. When students accept a new program, such as reducing the school's carbon footprint, it will be much easier to support going forward. This applies to teacher support as well. For example, one way school leaders can encourage support is through school-wide competitions to conserve energy, the so-called “gamification” of energy efficiency. Also engaging with students will build energy-efficient behaviors that last well beyond school years.
Take advantage of mobile technologies. Mobile capabilities, including mobile alerts for students, their parents, and staff, provide a sense of security and can be useful in determining maximum runtime of facility assets. Even tracking students connected to the school's network can help with ensuring this as well.