Getting schooled on energy savings

In this installment of What Works, a Virginia school district is saving millions through a comprehensive energy plan.

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It’s challenging enough to overhaul energy use at a single site – selecting and implementing energy-saving technology, getting personnel on board to take responsibility for their energy use, and tracking the results of energy-efficiency initiatives. Loudoun County Public Schools in Ashburn, VA, is working to optimize energy use at 98 buildings, including 55 elementary schools, 15 middle schools, and 15 high schools.

It’s a tall order, and it’s something the district has been working at for more than 20 years with the help of energy consultancy and service provider Cenergistic (formerly Energy Education). But through a combination of benchmarking, proactive maintenance, equipment condition monitoring, and a keen focus on behavior change, the district has saved more than $70 million in expected energy costs since 1993 – and $5.6 million in the past year alone.

A district-wide recognition of the energy efficiency program’s value and importance allows for those significant (and continued) savings, says Mike Barancewicz, an energy education specialist at LCPS. “Everybody gets it,” he says. “It’s not about one department implementing a program. It’s about all of us wanting to be a part of something.”

LCPS connected with Cenergistic in 1993 as part of a for-the-time unusual program in which Cenergistic would share with the district, for a four-year contract period, the energy savings resulting from incorporation of the consultancy’s energy-efficiency programs. After that, all energy savings would belong exclusively to the school district.

A key element of the partnership with Cenergistic was the implementation of EnergyCAP energy measurement and verification software. The software has allowed LCPS to better analyze individual facilities’ resource utilization and set benchmarks for electricity and water use, say Barancewicz and John Lord, another LCPS energy education specialist. This enhanced analysis has brought to light major discrepancies in resource use – and therefore significant opportunities for savings.

A benchmarking report found that one of the district’s high schools had unusually high water use versus a similar LCPS high school. During a vacation period, maintenance team members investigated the issue and found leaks in several pipe joints. So many bad joints were found along the length of one pipe that the district decided to do a major excavation project. And though the project necessitated an outlay of capital, the district saw what it calls “significant savings” on both water and natural gas, as the water that had been leaking was heated.

Energy audits at the start of the program and over the years have revealed major savings opportunities, too. For example, LCPS built a water tower and water treatment facility as part of municipality requirements to get a permit to build a new middle school at the same site. The plan was for all responsibility of the tower to be turned over to the town, but the electric utility account didn’t get transferred as scheduled, meaning that for several months the school district paid the electricity bills for a municipal asset.

Oversights and often-missed opportunities such as these can have a huge impact on an organization’s energy use and bottom line. Yes, it’s important to choose energy-efficient equipment as possible when replacing older, less-efficient assets (whether that’s a cooling system or industrial lighting) or when building new, the district’s energy specialists say. But Barancewicz draws an important distinction between efficiency and conservation and says that the two deserve equal attention.

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