Power Grab: Facilities Departments Combine Sophisticated Technologies with Ordinary Common-Sense Steps to Shave Dollars and Kilowatts off Energy Consumption

Article excerpt

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."

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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 (www.ase.org), 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 re placing 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 oft 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 (www.automatedlogic.com), 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' (www.faronics.com) 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. …