By Wayne Johnson, Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions
School initiatives regarding energy use and sustainability can be in-depth and complex, but you can also get started fairly easily. A few simple suggestions can help you quickly identify areas where you can directly impact your school’s carbon footprint and finances. An added bonus: You can involve your school’s faculty and students in the process, so that everyone can share in the success and achieve environmental learning outcomes. Here’s what we’ve learned from working with independent schools.
Conserving power is easier now than ever. Technology has advanced rapidly in lighting, controls and analytics, and mechanical systems and programs can help speed along the savings. Creative financial solutions can help you quickly implement energy conservation measures (ECMs).
One of schools’ most effective strategies is to take fresh look at control systems. Schools can implement the latest technology in mechanical controls without major construction efforts, and when paired with analytics, this can deliver long-term savings. Adding analytics will allow you to more easily spot efficiencies and inefficiencies while simultaneously monitoring the health of your mechanical systems. This investment can also pay dividends in avoiding, or at least predicting, costly failures that can negatively impact operations and school satisfaction. In addition to a more resilient infrastructure, analytics will also deliver a steady stream of energy savings through continual commissioning. The combined power of controls and analytics may provide a flow of savings savings which can be applied to help finance deferred maintenance repairs.
Much like leasing a computer with an extended warranty, mechanical infrastructure can be provided as a service, meaning that maintenance and repairs are included along with all the expertise to ensure that you receive the full lifespan of the product while enjoying all the energy savings. At the end of an agreement, you can decide on next steps. This process can be an effective tool in eliminating deferred maintenance while preserving your capital for academic initiatives.
Procrastination is perhaps the largest consumer of energy on your campus. Every hour we delay in examining and implementing ECMs sends more carbon into the atmosphere and robs precious revenue from annual operations.
It is easy to track your progress by integrating management dashboards. This real-time information can be displayed to faculty, staff, students and key stakeholders within your organization and even integrated into curriculum. Schools should set time quarterly to check up on their energy progress.
The best way to achieve your ECM goals and benefit from savings is to build and execute an energy action plan. Plans can be very complicated or very simple depending on your goals.
First, you need to assess where your school is on its your energy and sustainability journey. Consider investing in an energy audit. While there are many varieties and vendors, take great care to select a partner who understands education and who has taken time to align the assessment with your school’s unique needs and goals. A study that returns data but is not easily actionable will not prompt change. When implemented, the savings stream from ECMs can often fund significant mechanical infrastructure upgrades. To quickly tackle larger deferred maintenance issues, you can blend in capital contributions with your ECM savings. This combined approach will accelerate savings and have a positive impact on facilities management
The next step is to look at deep energy retrofits, renewables and analytics data. These measures and investments may take 10 or more years to achieve ROI, but often deliver the most savings. Analytics can help you understand trends and system performance, and ultimately prevent future deferred maintenance and energy loss. Consider as-a-service options to tackle deep energy retrofit projects and deferred maintenance. These new financing options may allow you to store away a percentage of your savings from these changes to have capital available for future needs or academic initiatives.
Consider integrating energy savings and solar power into your curriculum. When you update your facilities technology, share a dashboard with your faculty. Allow students to watch firsthand what takes place with thermal exchange, PV energy generation and ECM activities. Your school can become an energy laboratory with just a bit of additional expense. Mathematics, environmental science, physics, finance and marketing curriculum are good places to start.
Take your message to the world: Let parents, benefactors and perspective students know that you are engaged with energy and sustainability and how your efforts support education, financial responsibility and environmental stewardship. Be proactive in communicating the positives about your energy action plan, and include images of your students and faculty engaged in the process. These visuals can clearly demonstrate that your school is leading the way in environmental education and stewardship.
“Evolving Energy Strategies In Higher Ed” is a recent podcast from Duke Energy Sustainable Solutions that features leaders from California Polytechnic State University and Ithaca College. Panelists discuss their sustainability goals, master plans, explore energy management strategies, financing options and more.
Replacing incandescent lightbulbs with LEDs might be round one of your school’s energy goals, but there is a lot more to ECMs than lighting. Look deeper for savings in mechanical infrastructure, control systems and analytics to make certain that savings continue to be delivered over time.
The most successful changes often include “deep energy retrofits.” It is common practice for schools to attempt to squeeze extra years of service out of aging assets. While we applaud the heroics of our maintenance teams, quite often these aging assets are energy hogs. By proactively replacing these assets, you can save energy, improve satisfaction, reduce maintenance cost and eliminate deferred maintenance items. The best part is that this can often be completed at little or no upfront cost and is fully funded through operational savings. Be sure to track success so you can make adjustments as necessary.
There is no need to feel as if you must do this alone. Simply starting the conversation can make you an effective change agent at your school. Perhaps tap a few folks on your campus to join you, including facilities staff, and engage your head of school at least quarterly. Consider partner organizations with business models that are transparent and easy to understand. If you chose to work with an outsourced energy partner, set up monthly check-ins.
360 Degree Sustainability (May/Jun 2021)
Students Tackle Operational Issues (May 2021)
The Well-Connected Campus (Sep/Oct 2021)
Plan for Success: Campus Master Planning (May/Jun 2021)
Building into the Future: Modernizing School Facilities (Jul/Aug 2017)
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