Energy Efficient Schools

Looking to the Future

Imagine the Nest Learning Thermostat perched on your wall at home. You know it helps you save energy and you can control it from anywhere with the Nest app. Now, think of hundreds of multiple devices like that collectively known as the Internet of Things (IoT) sharing data across your facility. And, imagine having a standardized dashboard that puts you in control of every energy efficient fixture in your facility.

Intelligent buildings, data sharing, and resulting behavioral changes will play a big role in impacting energy efficiency in educational facilities in the coming decade and beyond. Facility managers will spend time and resources analyzing large chunks of data generated by these IoT devices to predict trends impacting efficient energy usage and occupant comfort.

“When you are trying to analyze large sets of data, you have to make sure that you have the ability to capture all the data that really is similar,” says Ian Hadden, PE, LEED-AP BD+C, CEM, director of Energy Management Services at University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Open source initiatives like Project Haystack now make it easier for energy managers like Hadden to analyze data constantly created by smart devices used in educational facilities.

According to Hadden, his facility purchased a system a couple of years ago, but it can only compare data within the points of a main building controller. It cannot compare energy usage across different buildings on his campus and Hadden feels the standardization and linking ability of newer systems will be vital.

“It’s critical because in modern buildings you may have two or three brands or eras of Direct Digital Control (DDC) equipment and the default point name may be supply air temperature in one, discharge air temperature in another and leaving air temperature in the third. Being able to link data from those three different controllers to a common point is a great help,” he said.

According to Hadden, “machine learning algorithms will help the ‘standard’ analysis report learn individual systems and better recognize issues as they begin before they cause inefficiencies or occupant comfort issues.”

Intelligent buildings will also provide effective predictive and preventive maintenance plans, thus reducing costly expenses in the long run. This will allow schools to take a proactive approach to indoor air quality practices and utilize resources to build new, energy efficient buildings than retrofit old ones.

However, for the pragmatic K-12 educational facility planner, much will depend on infrastructure spending in a sector that has seen prolonged neglect.

“The number one trend will be simply to have the funding to do anything. Many districts are suffering the effects of aging infrastructure and pretty much keep everything together with glue and string,” says Molly Smith, AICP, REFP, Founder, thinkSmart Planning Inc.

She hopes that school districts with modest means will do basic energy efficiency updates like efficient lighting, upgraded HVAC systems, make sure openings are properly sealed, and create district-wide policies on energy efficiency.

Prudent space management is another trend that will have a positive impact on energy consumption and cost. Hadden works on a college campus with almost 3 million square feet ranging from athletics to student housing to classrooms and research spaces, offices and swimming pools.

There is continuous usage of space and it needs to be prudently managed, otherwise “our students aren’t able to get all their course requirements in a four year span and their costs go up along with our operating costs.”

Since the launch of ENERGY STAR in the early nineties, the K-12 schools sector now has the most ENERGY STAR certified buildings in the US. According to a 2012 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, buildings that were benchmarked consistently in ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager over a three-year period reduced energy use by an average of 2.4 percent per year, for a total savings of seven percent.

According to the US Department of Energy (DoE), “on average, zero energy schools can use between 65 to 80 percent less energy than conventionally constructed schools, and the remaining energy required is supplied by renewable energy. In addition, zero energy schools can become prominent community landmarks that educate a new generation of students with science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) skills critical to our nation’s future.”

We will also see a growing trend towards outsourcing maintenance work and energy efficiency operations in public school districts and charter schools. According to a 2016 Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and the National Association of Energy Service Companies (NAESCO) study, schools spend $1.2 billion to hire services of energy service companies and three quarters of this money goes to energy efficiency related activities. The report foresees that this amount will continue to grow.

Despite new technology and innovation, the perennial champions in energy efficiency will ultimately be the building managers and occupants who go out of their way daily to reduce wastage.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management April 2018 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Sarat Pratapchandran is a writer specializing in education, environment, and healthcare. His website is

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