Sustainable Schools

More Than a Luxury

Every year, schools pour hundreds of millions of dollars into energy efficiency upgrades. At the beginning of these projects, projections are made by architects and engineers who use energy modeling tools to predict future energy efficiency, or by performance contractors who tout guaranteed savings. Yet for all the time and expense that goes into projecting future savings, owners often receive little proof of actual efficiency improvements or cost savings after the fact.

What is the reason for this lack of proof? Among owners, designers and performance contractors, there is little perceived negative impact to a lack of measurement and reporting after a project is completed. But in reality, there are four critical reasons to verify the effectiveness of energy efficiency upgrades.

1. Verification Is Often Required

In many cases, verification is required by government agencies or governing bodies. For example, the State of Ohio mandates three years of reporting after completion of energy-related improvements to a school. The U.S. Green Building Council also requires three years of reporting for LEED-certified schools. In both cases, projects that complete the reporting requirements are rare, and while many states and organizations don’t enforce their own requirements, owners without verified results would be at risk should the level of oversight increase.

2. Verification Equals Bigger Savings

A reduction in long-term energy usage is far and away the biggest benefit a school can gain from energy efficiency upgrades. With new equipment, owners enjoy reduced maintenance costs and reduced energy costs. As equipment ages the maintenance costs return, but a well monitored and maintained system will continue delivering energy cost savings throughout its expected life.

For example, replacing a 32-year-old boiler with a gas-fired, high-efficiency boiler yields immediate cost savings. For the next five years, maintenance costs related to this system will be low and equipment costs will be nearly non-existent. However, just because maintenance costs are low doesn’t mean that efficiency is optimal. The efficiency of a boiler may be impacted by factors such as flow capacity, temperature controls, flue gas design and water temperatures being maintained, all of which have nothing to do with the age of the equipment. Verifying the success of the new boiler installation and then continually monitoring its performance is the only way to ensure continually lower energy costs. Without monitoring, the system may become unbalanced and energy costs may rise, even with newer equipment. In the most successful projects, rigorous verification results in systems that create positive cash flow by the end of their expected life.

3. Verification is Essential

Verifying energy savings has become more important than ever as the design industry continues to strive for more efficient design while greening the supply chain. The Environmental Protection Agency has responded to this need by providing Portfolio Manager, a free online tool for ease of ENERGY STAR certification and LEED record compliance. Portfolio Manager is a cost-effective tool to comply with state laws and LEED standards. When supplemented by qualified engineers who provide annual reporting analysis, Portfolio Manager is an excellent way for owners to stay on track.

Verification is also an essential tool for feedback. All energy conservation upgrades require both technology and behavioral adoption by the client. The verification process creates a feedback loop for the architectural community and the building owner, while also giving visibility to what really works. Across the country, as we measure, verify and report, stakeholders gather up the data for further improvements in efficient design.

4. Verification Reduces Risk

The lack of verification, a critical feedback mechanism, leads to doubts in the minds of decision makers. For every owner with a success story, there is one who has not received the payback they were promised. Worse still, these owners have little hard data with which to prove or disprove their beliefs. School administrators are among the most discerning of owners, and with good reason. These decision makers want sustainable solutions, but cannot afford to take risks with tight financial resources.

Analysis of the success of energy efficiency projects is one critical way to reduce risk and to create a future-ready and sustainable operations plan. For owners looking to maximize cost savings and long-term benefits, verification is more than a luxury; it’s a necessity.

This article originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Douglas Lafever, CMVP, dlafever@fhai.com, is an energy services manager with Fanning Howey

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