The applications of the Internet of Things (IoT) for K-12: Helping schools improve learning environments while reducing operating costs.
For schools, energy and operating costs continue to increase. Collectively K-12 school districts in the United States spend more on energy, about $6 billion dollars per year, than they spend on textbooks and computers combined according to the U.S. Government’s Energy Star program. As much as 30% of that expenditure is wasted according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). This waste is from aging structures, building management systems and poor operating practices. As much as 70% of a school’s energy use goes into lighting, and space cooling, heating and ventilation.
The cost effective reduction of energy and operating costs is more achievable today than ever before. By employing both supply-side (purchasing) and demand-side (use) strategies, school districts best optimize their energy picture.
This article is about the demand-side, or, energy using strategies to improve efficiency. By using new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) more devices and sensors can be inexpensively connected over the internet rather than being hard-wired to computer systems used to control school energy using systems. These new technologies can deliver important installation cost savings to properly monitor and control lighting and HVAC systems.
Properly implemented, these new technologies not only reduce energy use but also provide important non-energy benefits (NEBs) beyond energy cost savings. NEBs such as more comfort and better lighting have been shown to improve student learning. And now, thanks to the IoT, school districts can cost effectively achieve such improvements that pay for themselves many times over the life of a typical school building.
To begin an energy efficiency strategy administrators should start by gathering information about their school buildings’ energy performance today. Interestingly, technology exists to perform these energy audits remotely; that is, without engineers or technicians stepping foot in the facility. These “remote control” audits will uncover opportunities to reduce energy consumption while at the same time improving the classroom environment.
Integration of lighting, HVAC raises the bar on energy savings
Integrating lighting and Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) controls into a single automated platform can now produce large gains in building occupant comfort while reducing energy consumption for the school district. School buildings are particularly well-suited for implementation of these technology solutions because of the wide swings in occupancy rates. Use of a single platform to control lighting and HVAC can help schools make the most of their energy purchases by avoiding the heating, cooling and lighting of unoccupied spaces.
The most advanced platforms offer the simplicity of a single system to optimize both lighting and HVAC systems. A single easy to use system accessible from any computer or mobile device such as a smart-phone can control both lighting and HVAC systems instead of the facilities maintenance teams making manual adjustments on multiple platforms. An integrated lighting and HVAC control system also provides equipment cost savings since the same occupancy sensors are used to automatically optimize lighting and temperature. Teachers also have the ability to control lighting and temperature in their classrooms within customizable parameters.
Most schools already have the technology backbone in place to accommodate these new lighting and HVAC controls. Districts can finance their energy-efficiency initiatives using an energy performance contract (EPC). The EPC provides for improvements with little or no upfront cost. Future energy savings pay for the upgrade costs. Various federal, state, local and utility grants and financing programs are also available for districts making energy efficiency improvements. Energy Service companies that specialize in these programs will help districts decide which project financing option makes the most sense.
The Future for Schools
Now school district leadership can take steps to address both the supply side and demand side of the energy equation. Supply side improvements consist of paying less for purchasing electricity and gas. Demand side improvements such as using the energy they purchase more efficiently frees up important budget dollars for other school programs affected by budget cuts.
Better comfort, higher test scores and more money for programs… these are all achievable now by virtue of the “Internet of Things”.