Maximizing Your Energy Spending

“Energy today is at the forefront of every school administrator’s mind,” says Marc Petock, director of Marketing and Communications for Richmond, VA-based Tridium, which markets a universal software framework targeted at solving the challenges associated with managing smart devices.“It’s expensive. Everyone wants to control and use it to the best of their ability.”

Petock is right. And, armed with knowledge, administrators can control and use energy wisely.

Energy savings starts with purchasing. What can be accomplished here depends on whether you live in a deregulated state. If you do, you have energy purchasing options. In order to choose the right supplier, you need to know how much energy each building consumes and when, which can be acquired by installing energy measurement equipment. The usage is aggregated — each school’s energy consumption is stacked from high to low against the others during the same period each day. This load curve is shown to potential suppliers to find one who can supply power during that period at a reasonable cost.

When looking for a supplier, choose one that manages price risk.

“If there’s one thing we really do at the end of the day,” says Jim Deering, J.D., president of Nordic Energy Services,“it’s manage and/or alleviate price risk.” Nordic is a Chicago-area firm that specializes in outsourced energy management, customized risk management, energy procurement, and demand-side energy management.

To manage risk, Nordic uses a number of diversified purchasing strategies. For example, Deering likes to buy in summer, when gas is less expensive, and then store it. He also likes to buy going into the weekend, when the price tends to go down. The firm buys some on the daily market.

“We look intensely at the futures market,” says Deering. “We take a layered approach to buying gas. Traditional utilities don’t do this. They just buy and pass the cost on to you.”

If your state isn’t deregulated, you have fewer options to save money from a purchasing strategy. Still, one strategy that administrators at Iowa City (Iowa) Community Schools use to save on energy purchasing is partnership in a direct purchasing cooperative created by the state school board association. Participation depends on the cost savings at each school, rather than the district as a whole. Iowa City has four schools that qualify.

The district also did a study of wind-generated energy as an alternative to purchasing electricity. “In conjunction with a university, we put up an anemometer and collected data for nine to 12 months to see if it would be economically viable for us to put up a wind turbine to generate electricity for an elementary school we were building,” says Paul M. Bobek, CPA, Iowa City’s executive director of Administrative Services. “Unfortunately, it didn’t provide a sufficient payback.”

After evaluating purchasing options, energy savings results from consumption savvy. Here, administrators at Iowa City Schools work to reduce energy consumption as they renovate existing facilities and build new ones. As each building is designed and engineered, a number of alternatives are evaluated, including insulation, day lighting controls, lighting design, window glazing, and frame alternatives, and more.

“Our consultant does a cost/benefit analysis on each option, including those that come with a cash rebate from the utility,” says Bobek. “We do a cafeteria selection, choosing whatever is most cost effective for each building.”

Building automation systems offer another way to be aware of your energy consumption. “Our technology allows administrators to analyze and optimize their energy needs by monitoring in real time the various equipment and systems that use energy,” says Tridium’s Petock. It empowers a school district to proactively manage its energy budgets. Administrators can benchmark each facility and look at the information for better control and to reduce cost.

Specifically, a building automation system can be used to program in multiple levels of energy reduction through spreading out set points and shutting down equipment. “I don’t recommending spreading out set points in classrooms,” says Steve Tom, director of Technical Information for Automated Logic Corp., Kennesaw, GA, which provides cost-effective, user-friendly building control solutions. “Research shows that the classroom is critical to the learning environment, and that’s why a school is there in the first place. Instead, relax set points in the cafeteria or gymnasium.

“A lot of administrators use their building automation systems for optimum start,” continues Tom. This is where HVAC equipment is programmed to turn on in just enough time to bring classrooms to their optimum temperatures at the start of classes.

Dave Bovankovich, vice president of Engineering for Langhorne, PA-based E-Mon, LLC, suggests an additional level of control: metering equipment. “There’s an old saying that, if you don’t know what you’re using, you can’t control it,” he says. “It’s true. You could drive without a speedometer, but you wouldn’t because, sooner or later, you’d be penalized for driving too fast.”

E-Mon is an industry leader in the manufacture of solid-state electronic kilowatt-hour submeters, automatic meter reading software, and more. Bovankovich notes that metering equipment allows administrators to do load curtailment to reduce energy consumption. Let’s say you have a school that is drawing 1,000 Kw of energy, and you agree with the energy supplier to reduce it to 900 Kw. An alarm is set to warn you when you’re near 900 Kw used. When it sounds, you turn off some equipment to avoid penalties for going over 900 Kw. “In some cases,” Kovankovich notes, “the energy supplier will buy the unused power back as if you were a generator.”

Yet another way to reduce energy consumption, suggests Tom, is building recommissioning, which is repairing all equipment so it operates the way it was designed. For example, clogged filters and dirt on coils cut down on heat efficiency, as do outside air dampers that get stuck. “Recommissioning is a new trend, and it has a big effect on how much energy is being used,” he says.

If building recommissioning seems rather obvious, so does an energy awareness program. “I personally believe that energy awareness programs are the most beneficial initially,” says Tony Shaker, vice president of Operations and Maintenance for Newton, MA-based UNICCO, which delivers best-in-class facilities maintenance services to customers in a wide variety of markets. “It’s teaching people what the cost of a utility is in a holistic manner.” It includes educating people about how much energy costs per square foot and per student, the effect burning coal and oil have on the atmosphere, and more. “If you teach people from the ground up about the cost of energy, they become more cautious on how they use it,” says Shaker. “I, for one, believe in that.”

In taking action toward implementing purchasing and consumption strategies, it is possible for administrators to maximize their energy spending. That leaves operating dollars free for other necessities.


Expert Advice for Lowering Energy Cost and Consumption

When asked for their best advice on both lowering energy cost and consumption, the experts had these tips to share.

Install energy monitoring equipment to help you track usage. “Implement it as quickly as you can because there are real dollars to save just by managing and controlling your energy,” says Tridium’s Marc Petock. “Energy is not going to get any less expensive. Eventually, everyone — especially the public sector — will be forced by legislation to do this.”

UNICCO’s Tony Shaker offers two-part advice. First, understand your usage. Do this by developing a profile of the energy you’re using in each school. “Put it in graphical analysis so you can see where it’s being used,” he says. And benchmark your usage against other schools, both your own and other schools in the state. Second, use the information to take action to reduce overall energy usage.

Make sure equipment is operating the way it’s supposed to, offers Steve Tom with Automated Logic: “Maintenance has a significant effect on energy usage. In many cases, equipment is easy to fix.” Similarly, if you have a building operating system, be sure to see if some equipment has been locked. “Things are sometimes disabled until repairs are made, and then no one remembers to unlock them,” he said.

When renovating or building new facilities, Iowa City Schools’ Paul M. Bobek suggests that, to gain efficiencies, you work with design professionals, utility companies and outside consultants early in the planning stage. “Look at models and projections that quantify the impact of energy costs on various systems,” he says. “Whatever is cost effective can then be implemented at the design stage.”

E-Mon’s Dave Bovankovich advises administrators to enter the search for the best supplier with the information that the potential suppliers need in order to help them give you the best possible deal. “You have to go in black and white,” he points out, “so the suppliers don’t have to hedge their bets.”

“Administrators need a disciplined risk management system,” says Jim Deering, J.D., of Nordic Energy Services. The best way to attain that is to partner with a firm that is in tune with the inner workings of the energy market. He cites an example: “If you buy energy today because it’s a nickel less than it was yesterday, you might actually lose fifty cents because the market indicates it would be more cost effective to buy at another time.”


Western Pennsylvania Schools Use

Innovative Solution to Manage Electricity

Formed in 1991, the Western Pennsylvania Energy Management Consortium (WPEMC) allows schools to act as one in purchasing electricity, providing more leverage to find advantageous prices. Today, WPEMC includes 58 schools, with a total electricity load of 220,000 MWhs.

The Allegheny Intermediate Unit, a branch of the Pennsylvania Department of Education that provides specialized educational services to Allegheny County’s 42 suburban school districts and five vocational/technical schools, along with the Beaver Valley Intermediate Unit, comprised of 15 local school districts and one vocational technical school in Beaver County, and seven other Intermediate Units work to manage WPEMC’s electricity load.


Historically, the WPEMC utilized fixed-price products for their electricity procurement. When their contract expired, electricity prices were at an all-time high and WPEMC faced a nearly 100 percent increase in their current fixed-price contract.


WPEMC turned to Strategic Energy, one of the nation’s largest retail energy providers, for an alternative energy procurement strategy. Strategic Energy offered PowerPortfolio, an industry-leading product that allows customers to lock in a portion of their load long term, while also offering flexibility to execute short-term purchases when the market conditions are favorable.


The PowerPortfolio product from Strategic Energy provides WPEMC the flexibility to manage its electricity procurement costs more effectively. As a result, within the first 18 months WPEMC saw a savings of 18 percent over the fixed-priced offer.

“Strategic Energy offered an innovative product that allowed us to take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace at a time when prices were extremely high,” said Don Wukich, director of operations, Allegheny Intermediate Unit. “Because we have an option to purchase a mix of short-term and long-term purchases, the WPEMC has seen significant savings — money we can reinvest in the classrooms.” Visit for more information.