Facilities departments combine sophisticated technologies with ordinary
PETER PISTORINO SAYS there's a name for
the way he thinks a school district should launch an
energy conservation initiative: an envelope approach.
He says the term refers to looking at the outside package
of a structure to check for inefficiencies: Examine
the observable, external sources of energy loss such
as the doors, windows, insulation, and weather stripping.
"Do the obvious first," Pistorino explains, "and
then get more finite."
Pistorino, facilities director for Hudson Public
Schools in Hudson, MA, recommends a comprehensive
strategy that leaves no possible energy saver unexplored.
"Attack a problem from every side," he says.
Like many of his peers, Pistorino has concentrated
much of his efforts on lowering heating, cooling, and
lighting costs in his district. According to the nonprofit
organization Alliance to Save Energy, a
promoter of energy efficiency worldwide, US schools
spend more on energy than on computers and textbooks
combined; heating, cooling, and lighting usually
combine for the majority of that consumption, and as
such, represent the largest opportunities for savings.
For Pistorino, that has meant first reviewing and comparing
respective energy costs and usage at the various
schools in his district based on square-foot costs, and
then setting off on a number of practical ways to save
on consumption and reduce costs, starting with the elementary
step of shutting down computers when school
is out, and then auditing schools at night to determine
whether any equipment has been left on-- and to come
up with ways to achieve greater efficiencies.
Pistorino suggests several actions, such as using
timers to shut off exhaust fans when they reach a
certain temperature range, and turning off furnaces
whenever possible. Drawing a comparison to the energy
expended by a car engine that continually stops and starts,
Pistorino advises replacing old motors in the district's heating
system with new ones that oscillate. He cites the savings to
be had by lighting your schools with more efficient bulbs and
by shutting off all unused lights.
Pistorino has put his advice to work in his own district.
Regulating the use of exhaust fans at one campus cut 60
percent off the school's annual gas consumption, which came
to $8,000 in savings. Turning off unused lights districtwide
reduced electricity costs $100,000 in a year's time. He talks
about the need to try things out to see how much energy can
be saved without draining performance: "I see a light with four
fixtures in it. What if I took one out? I reduce energy costs by
25 percent. What if I do that across the whole school? And then
across all the schools? Little things make a big difference."
Pistorino's work gets a big assist from technology. A
digital control system lets the facilities management department
identify and troubleshoot problems remotely. Through
the use of a web-based system from Automated Logic, a schematic illustrates the problem
visually, pinpointing the classroom or office in the district
where attention is needed. Typically, Pistorino receives a cell
phone or PDA notification. He can adjust thermostats or
power down PCs by simply tapping into his laptop. "I have
100 percent control-- heat, light, anything," he says. "I can
even lock the doors."
Technology has also been instrumental in many of
the energy-saving measures undertaken by Mississippi's
Aberdeen School District, under the watch of its former
technology director, Kevin Knuckles, who left Aberdeen in
January to take an equivalent post farther south in the
state, at Pearl Public School District. For example, to carry
out the basic job of shutting off idle computers, Aberdeen
began using Faronics' Deep Freeze software.
As a result, the district's computers no longer run 24/7;
the system powers down all workstations automatically at
5 p.m. each afternoon.
To further reduce power consumption, Knuckles replaced
seven PCs in the data center with a single PC and six thin
clients (monitor, keyboard, and mouse) connected to an NComputing X300 desktop virtualiztion
device, which consumes a single watt of power compared
to the 120 watts consumed by a typical PC. The six thin
clients connect to the one PC and use its computing power.
The setup has sharply reduced energy usage and costs in
Aberdeen's data center is its lifeblood. It supports school
administrative software, curriculum-based and research-based
applications, time and attendance software, as well as phone
system/voicemail, security hardware, internet connections,
e-mail, and a host of other applications. If it were to fail,
Knuckles says the district "would be dead in the water. Downtime
means we are failing the students and the teachers."
As insurance against that kind of large-scale disruption,
Aberdeen adopted the American Power Conversion InfraStruXure on-demand system to replace
multiple battery-backup units in the data center. The single
backup unit uses power more efficiently and generates less
heat, reducing the load on the air conditioning system. The
tangle of cables from multiple backup units is gone, and the
data center can continue to run for nearly two hours in the
case of power failure.
Knuckles explains that all of the savings created by
reductions in energy free up money that can be put toward
classroom technology purchases, which then translates into a
district's ultimate yield. "Our profit is successful schools," he
says, "which come from successful students and teachers.
Today that means providing the best educational tools and
technologies to support classroom instruction."
For Ventura Unified School District in Southern California,
the effort to trim power consumption began at base camp.
The district's administrative headquarters is located in a
120-square-foot, two-story office building that's more than
30 years old, and its heating, venting, and air conditioning
equipment was at the end of its lifecycle.
As part of a fully upgraded system that was rolled out
in December, the district is using Optimum Energy's Ultra High Performance HVAC
optimization software, which enables building performance
to be tracked and measured remotely, verifying savings on
both a real-time and historical basis. The technology is
expected to have a dual savings impact on Ventura
USD, sparing an estimated 450,000 kilowatt hours and
$80,000 per year.
"We wanted to purchase new equipment that was efficient
and in line with our desire to save costs while protecting the
environment," says David Inger, who works directly with the
district's facilities department as energy projects manager
for the Ventura County Regional Energy Alliance, a consortium of public agencies that work
on the conservation of energy resources in Ventura County.
"We're hoping it will also reduce our maintenance costs
and give us the ability to monitor system performance in as
precise a manner as possible."
US SCHOOLS' ENERGY COSTS:
- Total more than $8 billion per year.
- Average out to $175 per student.
- Could be reduced by up to 20 percent
through energy-efficient operations
and maintenance strategies.
- Could be lowered at the district level
by up to30 percent through the
construction of high-performance schools.
- Are schools' second-largest expense behind
Source: US Department of Energy
However, Ventura USD doesn't expect technology alone to
lead its energy initiatives. The first step it took was to change
organizational culture, attitudes, and behavior. Energy conservation
education has become a priority in the district.
The superintendent regularly issues green directives to the
school principals, who pass the message down the line to
their staffs. The payoff: Energy awareness has grown, and
small behavioral changes occur regularly in the schools and
administrative offices, from reducing thermostat settings to
conserving the use of nonessential appliances such as
"You need to educate your staff about the importance of
changing behavior and how it benefits the district, especially
with energy costs going up," says Jorge Gutierrez,
the district's director of facilities services. "It must be a
Paula Jacobs is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.