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Small things, personal buy-in, training, and diligence add up to millions in energy savings


There's a familiar TV commercial you may have heard: a smooth, slow-talking gentleman gives his name then states "...and I'll leave the light on for you." But making sure that lights - and other energy consuming devices and habits - are turned off when not needed has generated huge savings for the Knox County Schools over the last few years thanks to the KCS Energy Department.

"Beginning in the Spring semester of 2008 the Energy Department conducted training sessions focusing on energy efficient behaviors in all schools," said Zane Foraker, Energy Department Manager.  "The initial sessions focused on energy tip sheets that were handed out to the staff. In several cases the principal of a school had the tip sheets laminated and placed on bulletin boards in every classroom."

The results of the training in those schools that have aggressively adopted those practices have translated into huge savings for the school system.

Energy training had in immediate impact on energy use starting in February 2008 and Energy Use Intensity (EUI) has continued to decline every year since then as indicated by the red line.
Comparison of actual (red) vs projected (green) energy use over the years. The difference equals energy savings in real dollars.
Examples of energy efficient behaviors include:
• Turning off lights in areas that are unoccupied
• Keeping exterior doors and windows closed at all times
• Keeping interior doors closed except when changing classes
• Turning off computer monitors when not in use during the day
• Turning off personal computers and as many plug loads as possible at night

The training had an immediate impact with energy use starting to trend lower in February of 2008 than the previous year, while previous energy use had been increasing (See Chart at right).  " Just being trained in the simple behavioral changes on that tip sheet resulted in this success," noted Foraker. 


The department measures energy by Energy Use Intensity (EUI) by comparing costs per square foot of facility space. Energy Use Intensity has continued to decline in every year since the Energy Department was formed.

Effect on projected vs actual energy consumption
In the second chart, the red line shows actual EUI data trending down every year, indicating continuous improvement in energy efficiency. (See graph at right)

Before the Energy Department was founded, energy use had been increasing at an annual rate of 6.5% a year. The Green line shows what the projected trend would have been if Knox County Schools had failed to start an Energy Management Program.

"The target EUI for new KCS schools is 35.0 kBtu/ft2, so there is still room for improvement from our current average of 62.7 kBtu/ft2," observed Foraker,  "but we are in much better shape than the 95.6 kBtu/ft2 that it might have been otherwise." The average this last year is 32.9 kBtu/ft2  or almost a third less than predictions.

Training to continue
Training will continue with a more school-specific focus identifying school-by-school and building-by-building efficiency gains and trends. " Special training sessions have been conducted with custodians because they are in the building more hours than any other staff and therefore have the most opportunities to save energy," said Foraker who noted that savings was the most in those buildings where custodians were diligent about lights, open doors, and so on.

Budgetary Impact of Energy Program: Good energy practice offsets costs of rate increases
The Energy Department always explains that the goal of our program is to reduce energy consumption because reducing consumption will always reduce cost in the long run. "We as a school system have no impact on the utility rates, but we can always make decisions to reduce our consumption of utilities," Foraker pointed out.

Since 2007, the Energy staff has identified energy issues that resulted in either direct reimbursement or annual savings totaling more than a half-million dollars (See Table). "Many of the items are water leaks that were identified only by bill analysis," said Foraker.  Some are utility company billing errors that would have gone unnoticed without energy and water consumption focused auditing. The annual savings currently attributable to these types of items is now at $385,046. The one-time payments and reimbursements received stands at $140,268.

That is a significant amount of money, but it doesn’t come close to illustrating the true effect and benefit of having an active Energy Department.  "The biggest savings is the value of the avoided costs of electricity, natural gas, and water that we don’t use," said Foraker. However, it is often hard to visualize that cost avoidance or to realize how much more we would have been paying had the energy efficiency focus not been in place.

What effect has the Energy Program had on district utility costs?

Based on the escalation rate of energy consumption prior to 2007 it is possible to project what the utility costs might have been if KCS had maintained the status quo. The graph at right shows that projection.

Over the four years that the Energy Management Program has been in place, the combined avoided utility cost savings is estimated to be $15,669,533.

Foraker is quick to point out while utility costs have gone down, square footage has gone up. "Keep in mind that since 2007 KCS has added Hardin Valley Academy and Cedar Bluff Elementary, and completed major expansions at Powell Middle and Ball Camp Elementary. Total KCS square footage has increased 474,095 from 9,094,516 in 2007 to 9,568,611 in 2011."

Obviously utility rate changes have a large effect on actual dollar expenditures. If utility rates had remained unchanged from 2007, in 2011 KCS would have only spent $11,511,944 for utilities, or $2,660,309 less than the actual expenditure. Electric rates alone have increased by 39.% since September of 2007 when the program started.


School, Administrator, Teacher, Staff, Student buy-in is critical factor for cooperative success
The Energy Management staff is quick to attribute the energy savings to the efforts of all employees of the Knox County Schools and the students, themselves. "While spending money and installing new, more efficient equipment never hurts, there is seldom room in the budget for projects like that," said Foraker. "We have found that the most reliable predictor about whether a school will reduce or increase energy consumption is the level of buy-in by the principal and habits of the staff."

Foraker said that it is usually easy to spot schools that are doing a good job on energy conservation even without going into the building. "There are obvious differences detectable just by driving around a school, without even going in the door.  If entryway lights are on during the day, or there are doors and windows propped open, or if the irrigation is watering fields in the rain, those are indications that the staff is not focused on efficiency or the energy tips that have been reiterated for over four years now," he said.

If these conditions are seen outside, then one could expect that if they were to continue on into that school that they would see computer monitors with screensavers running instead of being turned off.  There would probably be door wedges propping doors open, lights left on in unoccupied rooms, and other energy inefficient behaviors taking place.

"By contrast in our most efficient schools lights are being turned off in hallways by custodians between classes, computer monitors have stickers on them reminding people to turn them off as they leave the desk, and students have been given tasks such as making sure the door gets closed or the classroom light gets turned off as they go to lunch," said Foraker.

The three most energy efficient schools as of the end of FY 2011 are:

Sam E. Hill –                     32.5 kBtu/ft2
Blue Grass Elementary –    34.5 kBtu/ft2
Holston Middle –                36.3 kBtu/ft2


Programs that are helping:
The Trane Company has contributed a large portion of savings through the energy efficient projects they are completing pursuant to the PACT agreement. Hard work and efforts of custodians and maintenance personnel to change purchasing procedures and adopt energy efficient habits have contributed as well.


TVA Green Schools Program: a two-year pilot that the Energy Department is continuing

Students get a delight in catching the notoriously famous "Energy Hog" and pointing out his energy-wasting habits when he visits their school.

There is a Green Schools program that was started by TVA that went through a two-year pilot that focused on directly training students in energy efficiency and teaching them how to use the tools of the trade, such as light meters and different kinds of thermometers.

Part of this program includes an actor dressing up in a large Energy Hog outfit and helping to reach the students in assemblies where the Energy Hog tries to waste energy and the good teacher admonishes him with the help of the students.

This program was so obviously impactful, that the Energy Department chose to fund it for a third (gap) year in the expectation that TVA will offer it to all KCS schools next year.

The Energy Department does not have a budget for tools, programs, or pilot projects. To get the necessary funds to participate in things like the Green schools program, the department runs the EnerNOC Demand Response program.

That is a TVA-funded program that allows KCS to be paid for participating if TVA calls a Demand Response event. To date that program has generated revenue of $38,111 with quarterly payments increasing as more schools can be enrolled. Some of that money has been shared with schools that have reduced energy costs by participating in those programs.


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