By Jennifer Wohlleb
On a frigid January day, Jimmy Arnold spent part of his morning keeping an eye on a finicky boiler at Butler County Elementary that did not want to get up to the right temperature. That he was able to do so from his desk at the district’s central office while taking care of other responsibilities is key to what has made Butler County Schools one of the lowest K-12 users of energy in the state.
“We didn’t start this yesterday,” said Arnold, who is Butler County Schools’ energy manager. He noted the district began its efforts in the late ’90s but got serious about it in 2004 when the district committed to districtwide building automation systems.
PHOTO: Jimmy Arnold, Butler County Schools’ energy and technology director, remotely monitors a fussy boiler at a local elementary school. Through a number of steps, including monitoring energy use through a digital dashboard program, the district has been the lowest user of energy among public K-12 schools for the past two years.
That automation, coupled with data, is at the heart of Butler County’s energy management efforts, which according to data from KSBA’s School Energy Managers Project, has had the lowest Energy Use Intensity of any public school district in the state for the past two years (See chart).
At any time of day, no matter what his location, Arnold, who also is the district’s technology director, not only knows what the temperature is in just about any room in Butler County’s four schools, but he can power up or down heating and cooling systems to maintain an ideal, energy-saving level. Thanks to scheduling and zoning within the school buildings, Arnold has the most efficient ways to heat and cool down to a science.
“I got into breaking down the buildings and chopping them into stages,” he said. “And what that did for us, I started to understand how the utilities were billing us, on demand. On demand is billed every 15 minutes, so what I tried to do was limit our spikes. I tried to limit how our buildings started up on 15-minute increments. I have incremented the start-up stages every 15 minutes so I wouldn’t get a spike. And that’s where things really started to work for us and I feel like that’s where we started to be successful.”
Superintendent Scott Howard said having the pipes in each building retroffited several years ago so they could be zoned – meaning they could be controlled in sections rather than having to heat or cool everything at once – also made a big difference.
“Our high school, the way it was designed, if we had a big crowds, like for graduation, we would have to turn the air conditioning down as low as we could get it and run it 24 hours a day, three or four days in advance of that event to keep it comfortable,” he said. “We had the opportunity to work with a company that retrofitted all of our piping so that we could zone our buildings. Jimmy can shut down one part of the building and bring on another part of the building” to make a specific area comfortable without affecting the whole school.
Technology plays a crucial role in energy management. With its Intelligent Energy, which is a computerized system that provides for real-time monitoring of energy use, Butler County also is able to limit demand on most of its equipment, meaning it can be set to run at less than 100 percent capacity.
“Our equipment allows me to harness and limit how much electricity I’m going to let this equipment use. For example, today if it was going to be over 50 degrees outside, this chiller could only use 25 percent of current,” Arnold said, pointing at a school he was monitoring online.
Metering the equipment to see how much energy it uses allows the district to determine these limits.
“For example, on Sept. 2, 2011, this limit was not set at 25 percent,” Arnold said. “The chiller was using 281.78 kilowatts at 10:25 a.m. From 10:25 to 11:28, it went from 281 to 414 kilowatts. That cost us $1,819. And there is the power of limiting.
“By metering, I see what happens. Now I’m aware of what happens. I have the tools in place where I can go to that piece of equipment and set the limit. No piece of equipment that I have the ability to limit ever gets 100 percent.”
Arnold estimates the savings and avoided costs are about $170,000 a year. Howard said those savings go right back into the classroom.
“It’s enabled us to keep people working,” he said. “Where districts around us have had to lay off teachers, we’ve been able to funnel that excess savings into being able to keep teachers on the job, which research tells us, the more interaction with adults, the better off the kids are going to be.”