Fulton County Schools Named Energy Star Top Performer
• 4th Most Energy Star School Buildings in Nation
Fulton County Schools operates its school system on data. Whether the 92,000 student school system in the Atlanta area is evaluating student work, bus driver efficiency or teachers, Fulton benchmarks, eyes the data, sets quantifiable goals and analyzes the results. In fact, Education Week recently profiled the school system for its data-driven decision-making in all facets of the system.
So when Russell Holly, Coordinator of Utility Services, and Joseph Clements, Executive Director of Facilities Services, set out to cut energy use in the sprawling school system’s 100 plus buildings, data drove the planning and methodology. It wasn’t long before results started showing: the system was recently recognized with the US EPA’s Energy Star Leader award as a Top Performer, meaning it has achieved an energy efficiency portfolio among the top 25%, and the school system’s overall score exceeded Energy Star labeling requirements. Only 88 school systems in the United States have been recognized as Top Performers and Fulton is the first in Georgia.
According to Clements, Fulton has the fourth most Energy Star buildings of any school system in the US, and second most in the Southeast. Metro Atlanta ranked ninth in the US in Energy Star buildings for 2009 and Fulton schools comprised over half of the them, with 53 out of 102 labeled buildings. While the school system was recognized as a whole, 77 individual school sites earned the Energy Star label for their energy efficiency for 2010. Facilities must achieve a minimum energy score of 75 and meet additional requirements to receive a label. Out of the 93 Georgia schools that have earned the Energy Star label, 83% are expected to be Fulton County Schools!
Energy Star labeled buildings cost 40 cents less per square foot per year to operate than the average school, so the system’s 15,000,000 square feet of facilities translates into more than $6,000,000 per year in reduced energy costs. “Part of the cost reduction is related to a lighting retrofit which generated $600,000 per year in energy savings” says Holly.
Why undertake Energy Star designation, and more broadly energy conservation? “To be good stewards of tax money,” says Clements. “It’s a good ROI for us, more than a LEED building or planting grass on the roofs. Energy Star is a good way to compare since it is weather adjusted.” In 2008, the school system began to use the Energy Star Portfolio Manager to benchmark individual facilities and also benchmark performance against schools on a regional and national basis. “We took important benchmark measurements before we started, and compared our energy usage to the best peer school systems such as Fairfax, Virginia, not just similar in size but in type and age of buildings.”
“This benchmarking process is similar to evaluating students for math and reading,” says Holly. “We pre-test to see where the weaknesses are. In facilities, we audit the buildings to figure out why we are not achieving the expected results. Some analysis is done remotely and some in person to see what's going on after hours with energy use.”
Holly says Fulton’s new prototype schools are designed to be efficient and qualify for the Energy Star label. “Our new elementary schools are designed so it would be hard for them not to qualify – like entering a hybrid car in a gas mileage contest, with 22 out of 22 new schools earning the Energy Star label.” Even though all those schools qualify, operating them more efficiently can get an even higher Energy Star score.
“Our HVAC systems have an incredibly efficient design. We separate fresh air intake from the heating and cooling of the facility and installed dedicated units so we don't have to turn on large areas for partial occupancy. We have zones that operate during the summer and evening hours separate from the classrooms, such as the cafeteria and gym, designed the way we operate the school. We zone our HVAC to allow after-hours operation for teachers staying late while unused classrooms don't have to be on. ‘Design up front to be more efficient later on’ is our mantra” says Holly.
“Another design standard we use for efficiency is water-source heat pumps in the schools,” says Clements. “They require a water loop to reject or pull heat from and are very efficient – an elementary school has about 60 heat pumps. A variable speed pump pushes only as much water as needed for the number of systems that are operating. Each heat pump is the equivalent size needed for an average house.”
For schools without the latest in energy saving design, Fulton’s Utilities Services Department works with available technology to control what they can from a central location. “We can’t compare older schools to new ones, but technology certainly helps.” says Holly. “Key sensors tell us when the heating units are overheated, and we can check and find out why. Predictive and preventive maintenance contracts also help us keep our usage down. We monitor electric and gas usage on real time basis for most schools, allowing quicker feedback on identifying proper operation and energy waste. After school hours, we make sure power usage drops appropriately.”
The next step in energy conservation is participation by the school-based employees and students with items in their control. “We educate everyone and remind teachers to turn off lights and not hit overrides for the HVAC,” says Holly. Smart use of zones, separate lighting and cooling of administrative areas, classrooms and the gym are major savers. Meetings are planned for conference rooms rather than lighting a whole wing, limiting after hours overrides. Small things add up; it’s not much different than at home. They plan on outlawing classroom microwaves, refrigerators and lamps to reduce energy waste. Their IT group manages the computers to shut them off when not in use.
“If you think about energy as a pie, you’re going to a lose certain percent for inefficiency, but we’re also working to make the total size of pie (total energy used) smaller,” adds Clements.
1): Jennifer Klein, publicity, JMK & Associates, 404-374-2487
2) Joseph Clements <email@example.com>, Executive Director, Facilities Services, Fulton County Schools, 404-669-8983
3) Russell Holly <HollyR@fultonschools.org>, Coordinator, Utility Services, Fulton County Schools, 404-669-8991