Energy Audits

In order to understand what drives energy costs, it’s helpful to first know what does not drive them. Greg Coleman, vice president, TRC Energy Services, the market manager for the New Jersey Office of Clean Energy, Woodbridge, NJ, says, “We have found that the age of the building is not a driver. People tend to say, ‘Oh my gosh, the building is old, so it’s energy inefficient.’ Not true. There is no correlation between the age of a building and energy efficiency. If we did a graph of energy versus the age of a building, it would look like a shotgun sprayed on the grass. There is no correlation whatsoever.’’

By the same token, Coleman says that TRC, which has worked with about 2,600 schools throughout New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and Texas, has also found no correlation between square footage and energy (though obviously, more square feet will need more energy); and no necessary correlation between energy used and whether the school is elementary, middle, or high.

So, what is the most important driver?

“The one general question you can ask, is how is the building operated?” Coleman replies. “What kind of training and experience does the building operator have? Does the head custodian known how the school systems work? Is the lead mechanic involved? In our energy benchmarking for some 2,600 schools, how efficiently the building is operated is the key to how much energy will be saved.”

That said, Coleman also points out several other energy factors that are often overlooked.

For instance, most people are aware of the importance of proper lighting. But Coleman says that a surprising amount of energy is lost through the “plug load,” anything plugged into a wall socket. These include everything from computers to copiers to coffee pots to under-the-desk heaters to AV equipment to refrigerators, and more. A school can waste 10-15 percent of its energy bill through these devices not being controlled and shut down when not in use. “In New York, with its high electric rates, a single larger refrigerated vending machine selling soft drinks can use $400 worth of electricity in a year,” Coleman says.

Overall building controls should be in place, Coleman continues, so that heating and cooling systems go on and off at appropriate times, with temperatures set. Cleaning crews often turn on the lights when they come to work, then leave them on all night. The solution here, as in classrooms or rooms not used all of the time such as classrooms and bathrooms, are occupancy sensors, which automatically shut off when no one is in the room. “These represent huge savings,” Coleman say. “They cost as little as $60 a sensor, and the school mechanic can install them. You don’t need an electrical contractor.”

Also, says Coleman, most school gyms/auditoriums are lit with 10 to 30 high intense density (HID) lamps. They give off a huge amount of light, but turn them off and they don’t come right back on, like a light switch, and you can’t control them. To use some for, say, band practice at one end of the gym, you need to turn them all on. But these HIDs can he replaced by high-bay T5 fixtures — skinny fluorescent tubes that give better light, can be flicked on and off, and can be controlled. They will pay for themselves within 1 to 2 years and cut energy usage considerably more than half.

H. Jay Enck, LEEID AP, CxAP, principal of Commissioning & Green Building Solutions, Inc., in Buford, GA, makes a number of similar points. To Coleman’s point about the importance of how systems are operated, Enck says that, though some schools do very well in some areas, “Most school districts do not use the tools available to them to see how well the systems are interacting with each other.” Enck points out that when some systems are replaced with new ones, they go into schools with old ones that were designed differently. Again, the dynamics should be adding the new but modifying existing systems to get the maximum overall effect.

Also, Enck says, original designs are usually geared for maximum use. But school spaces are not used all of the time in the same way. For instance, a design engineer is likely to have designed the ventilation levels to get rid of carbon dioxide for spaces filled with people. But modern devices can match the amount of fresh air to the number of people who need it.

While a lot can be done with existing buildings, Enck maintains that there are a lot more opportunities for new buildings. “A good place to start is the new energy guidelines published in November by ASHRAE,” he says. “The minimum schools can achieve without much effort or cost is 30 percent improved energy efficiency. But this can be a jumping off point. Many schools improve up to 50 percent.”

With new facilities, Enck says he starts by approaching form and orientation by fitting the design as much as possible in the environmental system it is contained in. For example, on the coast, you can take advantage of prevailing breezes. Further inland, where these breezes aren’t there and the climate is dry, you can evaporate water to lower air temperature, which is cheaper than electricity and reduces the greenhouse gas effect.

Enck also makes the well-known point that, nevertheless, needs to be stated — there is no conflict between energy cost savings and environmental preservation. They, in fact, go hand-in-hand.

Nick Thickins, CEO/founder of Syam Software, Inc., in Nashua, NH, has a software focused simply on computer management. Thickins says that this technology has been around about three-and-one-half years He first started shipping in 2004 to a number of different industries, but the education market has taken off in the past six months. This is because, in working with school districts and utility companies, he’s been able to demonstrate substantial kilowatt savings. The first and key showing took place in Connecticut and the word has spread quickly. The approval by the power company of the software as an energy savings measure translates not only into reduced usage for the school, but also energy efficiency rebates from the power company.

“We usually sell the software to business people at the school for the cost savings, but then the IT and other departments are pleased with the added features,” Thickins says. He maintains that whereas other software can turn computers on and off, his has much more flexibility. For instance, the software monitors the entire operation, temperature and voltage issues, from the disc drive down to the silicon, so problems can be solved before they get serious. Usage can be programmed, but flexibly, so that computers can be turned on in the library for an adult education class in the evening. IT can interact with teachers and students for teaching or problem solving purposes, and IT is alerted when a teacher accidentally downloads the wrong information or a student is playing a video game during class.

“It doesn’t matter whether your school as 1,000 or 12,000 computers,” Thickins says. “The savings per computer can be $50 per year.”