For many public schools, deciding to track their energy performance is fairly straightforward. As Steve Lund, Energy Manager for Albert Lea Area Schools explains, “after staff, utilities are your next biggest cost.” Those big energy bills also present a big opportunity to find some real savings.
But finding savings requires a full understanding of how the buildings are being used in the first place. That’s where benchmarking utility data comes in.
For facilities and operations managers, that data is what allows them to find the projects that can provide real savings. “We started the process of benchmarking to see where we were compared to others and to start the justification to retro[fit our buildings],” said Tim Rybak, Operations Manager for Bloomington Public Schools.
Lund adds that for Albert Lea, “the data is absolutely critical. I don’t know how anyone can know where they are going when they don’t know where they’ve been. When I enter the data every month, I get a report back that compares our performance to buildings of like ages and uses. It could be that we’re in the 95 percentile, which is great. But sometimes we may fall down to the 65. Then we know we need to take a look at what caused that.”
Many of the easier fixes can involve removing extra appliances like individual mini-fridges in classrooms or gradually putting in more energy efficient lighting. But some of the most significant long-term savings can come when examining the building itself. “Usually when you start looking at it, you look at what we call the building envelope – roof, walls, and windows,” said Rick Olson, Director of Finance for Foley Public Schools. “Often times the roof insulation is one of the big savings. If you have older windows that are single pane, going to double pane is going to be a big savings.”
Some projects can benefit multiple facets of your building — like covering a pool. In Foley, Olson realized that covering their pool helps it keep its temperature and keeps extra humidity out of the air. Now they’re using less energy to heat the pool and they no longer have to find a way to get rid of the added humidity and the mold and air quality issues it can create.
In many cases, taking the human element out of the equation can simplify the process — such as automatic shutoffs for everything from lights, computers, and showers. “Whether it’s computers, lights, or heat — when it’s not needed it’s shut down,” said Lund.
But it’s not all automation. “How we use our facilities can have a significant impact on that cost,” said Olson. Rybak adds that in Bloomington, they “do try to do some behavioral modifications based on benchmarking. And they do yield savings.”
For public schools, the bottom line ultimately comes down to how benchmarking helps them achieve real savings.
“Any savings we find in our energy program can go toward education and programing,” said Lund. “We’ve saved over $3 million in ten years. That means something for a school like ours. $300,000 a year makes a big difference.”