What Are the Data Trends in Energy Use in K-12 Schools and the Impact on the ENERGY STAR® Score?
By understanding the energy performance of your K-12 school district, you can identify where there may be cost-effective opportunities to improve the energy efficiency of your buildings. By doing more with less, K-12 Facility Managers can decrease costs and free up funds for other education-related expenses. Although much focus has been placed on cutting the budget and reducing upgrades to facilities, the opportunities for saving through energy-efficiency improvements are often significant. After all, K-12 schools in the United States spend more on energy costs than teachers’ collective salaries*. In education facilities, energy efficiency provides economic, environmental, and health benefits to students and building occupants. To get started, Facility Managers seeking to tap the savings from energy efficiency in schools first need to understand how much energy their buildings are using and whether they’re efficient or inefficient based on their unique characteristics—location, assets, operations, and how the people inside are using the buildings.
Differences in Assets, Operations, and Behaviors Impact Data Trends in Energy Use in K-12 Schools
Perhaps the biggest challenge in understanding whether an individual school is efficient or not lies in the myriad of differences between schools. With more than 17,000 school districts functioning across the United States, every school is different, from their budgets, to their design and operation, to how they’re being used on a day-to-day basis. These variables can make it hard to compare one school to another based just on energy bills. The 1-100 ENERGY STAR score is a tool that enables you to compare of your building’s energy performance to similar buildings nationwide, normalized for property characteristics like size and location, and business function, like hours and number of occupants. It does not by itself explain why a building performs a certain way, or how to change the building’s performance. Instead, it’s a screening tool that helps you assess how your building is performing overall, by assessing a building’s physical assets, operations, and occupant behavior in a quick and easy-to-understand number. A score of 50 is the median. So, if your building scores below 50, it means it’s performing worse than 50 percent of similar buildings nationwide, while a score above 50 means it’s performing better than 50 percent of its peers. And a score of 75 or higher means it’s a top performer and may be eligible for ENERGY STAR certification.
Top Data Trends Related to Energy Use
School districts nationwide are moving toward comprehensive energy management using the ENERGY STAR score as a basis to know which buildings to target for improvement. Because school districts tend to use each school facility for decades, it’s important to track and understand trends in energy use on an ongoing basis. To reap greater savings from energy efficiency efforts, Facility Managers should follow these best practices:
- Benchmark energy use consistently in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager to compare performance to similar schools and identify unexpected spikes in energy use over time. Track water use, including wastewater tracking, since hot water heating can be a significant driver of energy use.
- Use the ENERGY STAR Energy Efficiency Toolkit to empower students to help identify energy-efficiency opportunities, or engage an expert like Cenergistic Solutions to examine both equipment upgrade opportunities and inefficient behaviors across building systems, especially the ones that tend to account for the most energy usage:
- Plug load
- Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning
- Apply for ENERGY STAR certification for schools in your district that have an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or higher, and identify which of their energy-saving best practices might be replicated across the district.
How to Leverage Data Trends to Save Energy
Instead of getting bogged down in the data itself, Facility Managers should follow these simple steps.
- Reduce energy use per asset through energy use and performance measurement of facility assets.
- Take advantage of renewable heating and cooling resources, such as adjusting the comfortable temperature for a given facility up or down a few degrees to reduce energy use during the coldest and warmest months of the year.
- Eliminate lighting costs by automating lighting system controls.
- Reduce after-hours school use. Extracurricular activities can take a significant toll on the energy use and costs of the facility, so consider consolidating activities into fewer locations or buildings and restricting afterschool activities to those absolutely necessary, as well as ensuring other systems are not left running unnecessarily after school.
- Benchmark performance over time and keep data up-to-date.