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School Cost Savings:  Better for Bottom Line, Students &  Teachers

By Green Coast on 16 Jul 2015

Joe Ryan is the Senior Building Engineer for Green Coast Enterprises. Through its energy management service, Green Coast Enterprises helped three schools save more than $200,000 in utility costs over the past year. Most of the reductions occurred almost immediately through operational changes to existing systems. Other results included improved comfort and reduced wear-and-tear on equipment, which prolongs a system™s life and avoids large capital costs. Past and current clients include KIPP New Orleans Schools, Firstline Schools, ReNEW Schools, and Choice Foundation.

Question: What does Green Coast Enterprises do for school clients?

Ryan: What we are providing is energy management, so instead of hiring us for an energy audit, they’re hiring us for the ongoing management of their building. We go into the building to find out how it is operating; to learn about the system in the building; and to see what equipment—such as chillers, boilers, air handlers etc.— are involved. Every building is different and has its own personality, and we have to become experts in how that building operates and functions.

Early on, we can make some changes fairly easily. If we find the system is operating 24/7, then we will recommend operating it within open hours. Very quick savings and often that’s just part of the solution. We look less at upgrading system—such as higher efficiency chillers, boilers or lighting systems—and more at optimizing building operations. For instance, before you put in better lights, let’s just turn off the lights so that they’re not being used when no one is there. If you do that, the savings are probably bigger than if you install a new lighting system.

I often use the analogy of the Toyota Prius. The Prius doesn™t have a magic bullet for getting great gas mileage. They’ve optimized 20 different systems to do it. So with all of them added together, they get about twice the fuel mileage. When we go into a building, it’s the same thing: there’s typically no silver bullet, but it’s a matter of finding all those little things, which can add up to a 50 percent savings in the building.

Question: The equipment is being used too much?

Ryan: In some schools, the equipment is running 24/7. Even in newer buildings and sometimes that could be the schedule that is programmed into the building, but more likely it is the settings in the system that™s making it operate 24/7. One of our biggest challenges in New Orleans is our climate and humidity and figuring out how to deal with that humidity and still be able to provide helpful and healthy conditions. In a school facility that’s a challenge.

Question: But can’t a maintenance person handle these operations?

Ryan: In some of the older buildings, systems are simple and fairly straightforward, but in new and renovated buildings,they’re not. The systems are complicated and they really need an expert dealing with them on a regular basis. Each school is unique: the systems are little bit different; the layout is a little bit different; and their brains are programmed a little bit differently.

Most of our clients understand that they have a problem. They may not know what it is, but they know that they’re getting very large utility bills at the end of each month. They know that they’re getting a lot of complaints from teachers and administration about uncomfortable conditions and this includes new buildings. They could hire someone to do an energy audit and some of them have, but the truth is that there isn’t a quick and simple fix to most of these problems. It’s really an ongoing operation review and keeping an eye on systems to make sure they’re operating properly.

Question: You’ve been a teacher, so how do properly functioning buildings contribute to learning?

Ryan: If you reduce the amount spent on energy, then you have more money for the classroom. The more directly significant effect on students and teachers, however, is the comfort and health in the building and classroom. It’s important to get the temperature and humidity in the comfort zone.

Another big health issue that will affect performance is CO2 levels, or carbon dioxide in classrooms. New schools have done a good job of introducing fresh, outdoor air into the classrooms, so you can dilute the buildup of CO2, which makes students drowsy, inattentive and lowers energy levels in teachers. Plus, high CO2 levels can cause illness and increase absences. An alert and energetic teacher is going to do a better job than a drowsy and listless one. In older schools, there was less focus on introducing fresh air into the classroom, so it’s a little more challenging to correct the CO2 levels.

These are a few of the changes we can make in a school.

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