By Estatio Gutierrez, Ph.D., Optimization Engineering Manager
April 25, 2017

It’s hard to believe, but we are in the middle of prom season and quickly approaching the end of the school year and finals for both higher and lower education. The season of empty classrooms provides the perfect opportunity to pursue facility improvements, from equipment upgrades that would have disturbed classroom learning to routine maintenance work. This summer’s homework for school facilities managers, sustainability officers, and energy engineers should be to implement an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy. There are numerous and diverse benefits that this strategy provides to educational campuses.

Student Comfort

Temperature impacts our moods. We’ve all been miserable at some point because we are too hot or too cold, and couldn’t do anything about it. Temperature also affects concentration levels and as a result, a student’s ability to learn. This makes healthy and comfortable environments important for educational facilities.

A study was conducted at Westview High School in Portland, Oregon that was spurred by temperature complaints. For the study, six 9th grade classes were given a test, consisting of simple math equations, memorizing, and recreating basic shapes, etc. An award for performance was promised to ensure students gave their best overall effort. All classrooms used for the test were similar except they had varying temperatures and students were given 10 minutes to acclimate prior to the commencement of the test. The final results of the study revealed the following:

  • Average test score of 76 percent for a classroom at 61°F
  • Average test score of 90 percent for classroom at 72°F
  • Average test score of 72 percent for classroom at 81°F

Our 5i platform strikes the balance between energy efficiency and comfort using advanced modeling techniques. Energy savings do not have to come at the expense of comfort, which in an educational setting would also be at the expense of student education.

Optimizing Current Assets

An IoT-enabled solution provides transparency into a building’s performance on a granular level that would have otherwise been impossible. By turning the BMS into a data stream feeding a cloud-based platform, BuildingIQ can provide actionable data and even closed-loop control that will improve operations. Using a data-driven approach optimizes current assets and exposes hidden energy drains.

For example, there was a school that we recently worked on that was producing very odd results. The data and energy consumption just did not line up with what a building of that age and size should be producing. In other words, the expected outcome of the system differed from actual performance. We were eventually able to trace the root of the problem back to one thermostat. Upon inspection by the on-site facilities manager, it was discovered that the thermostat had unfortunately been vandalized. The upside here is that instead of spending huge funds adding sensing technology, we used energy analysis of the entire complex system to lead us to the root cause of a problem.

Even when there is not a specific piece of equipment faltering, a building can still naturally “drift” in terms of performance as variables, such as classroom occupancy and usage, change. A building can be tuned and optimized to meet LEED standards at the beginning of its life, but if it’s not perfectly maintained and operated, that structure will slowly become less and less efficient. IoT-enabled intelligent energy platforms, with closed-loop control, can identity these trends and course-correct in near real-time, ensuring that large capital investments are living up to their ROI promises. Think of it this way: traditional buildings get optimized exactly once; and from that moment onward they get increasingly expensive to operate —in terms of energy and operating costs, and occupant comfort. With an IoT-enabled BMS that learns and anticipates, optimization becomes a continual, automatic process.

Sustainability Goals and Education

In terms of sustainability, educational campuses tend to be highly proactive at setting commendable goals in terms of waste, water usage, and energy. Optimizing current assets will naturally lead to energy savings and move campuses closer to their goals, however, our platform can do much more than that through its automated measurement and verification (M&V) capabilities.

Comparing historical trend data to the real-time data that is collected —the then to the now— shows the impact of an energy upgrade and provides evidence to justify the investment. What’s more, this can be done as both on a retrofit isolation and whole facility scale. When it comes time to justify budgets and make the request for new equipment, this transparency can be invaluable.

The practice of publicly displaying energy use has also developed over the years. You may have seen it —buildings or schools that have a real-time dashboard showing energy usage and performance. This stream of data and accompanying insights can easily be harvested from intelligent energy management platforms.

Finally, the data can also provide another benefit. This time within the curriculum. In some cases, we’ve seen where the data has been taken from our platform and provided to students to analyze, most often in higher education settings. A campus’ own buildings can provide the ultimate case study for energy education.

So, while the end of the school year is the time to get the loud, disruptive projects done, focusing on implementing a non-invasive intelligent energy management platform should be on the check list… I know, I know, no one likes summer homework.