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Smart energy technology saves money

U.S. schools spend more on energy than they do “on computers and textbooks combined"

With new, smarter building technology to control energy use, school leaders can reduce their carbon footprint and use the money saved to fund projects that may have suffered from budget cuts. U.S. schools spend more on energy than they do “on computers and textbooks combined,” according to a past report by Energy Star.

“As much as 30 percent of a district’s total energy is used inefficiently or unnecessarily,” the report states.

Strategies to increase efficiency can vary from replacing aging equipment to installing a fully integrated energy management control system. A recently completed $35 million high school in Mississippi’s Oxford School District was built with energy-efficient HVAC, lighting, security and fire alarm equipment.

Johnson Controls’ Panoptix suite of cloud-based apps allows the district to monitor the building’s systems and to optimize energy use remotely, from a laptop or smartphone. Building temperatures can be adjusted based on occupancy while HVAC operations can be linked to weather forecasts. Panoptix analysts monitoring the equipment remotely also can alert school officials or dispatch repair crews if there is late-night breakdown.

The Oxford district financed the $6 million system based on Johnson Controls’ 15-year energy savings forecast. “If we can be smart upfront, the amount we spend in the beginning is less than what we would have spent over the lifetime of the building,” Oxford School District Superintendent Brian Harvey says.

Costs for these types of systems vary greatly depending on how extensively the vendor will monitor hardware, if a district wants to customize the cloud-based services, and whether inefficient equipment will be retrofitted or replaced.

Honeywell Building Solutions’ control systems gather data from hundreds of equipment components inside a school. Using complex algorithms, analysts with Honeywell’s cloud-based Attune Advisory Services ​can identify areas where schools can cut energy use by, for instance, replacing boilers, chillers and air handling equipment or by improving the efficiency of insulation, windows and doors. Schools also can save energy by installing more efficient lighting systems and upgrading water and wastewater infrastructure, particularly in restrooms.

“With a predictive maintenance plan, we can identify where problems are starting to arise before the equipment breaks down,” says Topher Nelson, a senior product manager for Honeywell Building Solutions.

Schools in New Mexico, California and New England, because of their more extreme weather, have been more proactive with investing in highly energy-efficient operations and buildings, Topher says.

Attune Advisory Services can cost from $20,000 to $100,000 a year. By guaranteeing future savings, however, companies such as Honeywell and Johnson Controls assume some of the financial risk. Financing options can vary based on individual state regulations, Topher says.

Systems that constantly monitor energy consumption and make adjustments can improve the safety, productivity and comfort of students and teachers. In addition, smart energy technology can offer a learning opportunity for students. Topher says many schools display HBS’ energy-use dashboard in a prominent place to give students a visual lesson in efficiency.

Ariana Fine is newsletter editor.