A class act

Teaching young people the importance of using energy wisely is something that appeals to an increasing number of schools. Andrew Skelcey of Trend Controls examines the educational role that building energy management system (BEMS) monitoring software plays while at the same time reducing CO2 emissions and saving money

Today’s schoolchildren are more energy aware than any previous generation and as we move towards a carbon neutral future, schools and other learning establishments need to do their bit to reduce carbon emissions. The first step towards successfully achieving this is to be able to monitor and manage energy use.

With education budgets being squeezed, introducing energy saving initiatives can save a significant amount of money. Reducing energy consumption is one of the quickest and simplest ways to deliver direct savings and, according to The Carbon Trust, could help the average secondary school save £21,500 in energy bills – almost equal to the annual salary of a newly qualified teacher.

While measures such as double glazed windows and energy efficient light bulbs all help, the most effective way to achieve a significant reduction of a school’s use of energy is via a building energy management system (BEMS). This technology is at the forefront of the drive towards carbon reduction and a fully integrated solution can directly control up to 84% of a school’s energy consuming devices.

Facts and figures

Occupiers of public buildings with floor areas of more than 1000sq m are required to have a Display Energy Certificate (DEC), which is designed to raise public awareness of the need for carbon reduction by displaying the actual energy use and efficiency of a structure. Out of over 40,000 buildings that require DECs, a large proportion are schools and the regulations apply to individual buildings, so school sites with several large buildings will need more than one certificate.

However, while a DEC is useful for providing information about a building’s rating, what it doesn’t do is offer a method of understanding how its rating was arrived at. Being able to extrapolate and analyse energy use data allows schools to better understand, reconfigure and improve their site’s energy usage and costs by having data presented in an organised and informative way. By using this information pupil and teacher awareness of how energy in their school is used is greatly improved and results in more environmentally responsible behaviour, such as turning lights out when they are not needed.

What’s on offer?

Trend’s 963 Supervisor, a graphical user interface, provides a window on the brains within the BEMS. Pupils can view all of the plant in a building and as well as being able to monitor the central heating system, water, renewable energy plant, lighting, and office equipment, they can also investigate options for improvement and make recommendations that will help reduce areas of waste.

If teachers and staff respond positively to these proposals then pupils will see that energy use is not just a topic they have to study, but one that has applications in the real world and has relevance to the comfort of their working conditions. Furthermore, involvement in the management of energy is a practical way for pupils to express their concern for the environment and can act as a platform for other environmental initiatives within a school.

Trend has also gone one step further and provided schools with additional teaching and learning aids. Data from the BEMS can be integrated into child friendly graphic displays for junior schoolchildren, or extrapolated and used in spreadsheets and trends analysis by senior pupils. Not only does this give them a much better idea of how their school is using energy, it also provides a valuable, interactive learning experience.

Easy access

Each system interface can also be adapted with information that is relevant to a specific school, for example, school colours and reports about trips and events. Flexible graphical tools can be configured in a simple style that will appeal to smaller children, while older children can use an interface style that is more appropriate to their learning requirements.

Just as importantly, the level of information provided can also be designed according to the audience. For instance, basic information such as how warm it is in the building or the outside temperature can be complemented by more specific information relating to how much gas has been used to heat the radiators or the total amount of water used within a particular period of time.

The information presented can form part of a lesson or a specific project, where pupils are asked to extrapolate data, analyse it and, for instance, carry out mathematical exercises. This puts CO2 reduction in real-time and highlights the practical aspects of energy use.

Positive image

Schools that have a positive attitude towards energy often use their BEMS to demonstrate their commitment to CO2 reduction and show the impact of their energy saving measures. One way of doing this is through products such as Trend’s EnergyEYE, a large format display that accesses utility meter readings from a BEMS and presents a continually updated record of a building’s energy consumption and carbon emissions – showing at a glance whether they are on, below or above performance targets.

The software runs on a standard PC that can then be connected to a wall mounted LCD monitor. Located within a school’s reception area or other communal space, this can offer a highly visual way of publicising its energy efficiency achievements that, in turn, projects a positive image to stakeholders and the local community. In addition to utility and emissions data, the display can incorporate scrolling text and a video, either or both of which could be used to explain a school’s environmental policies, energy saving plans and green achievements.

In today’s climate it is important for all kinds of organisations to let people to know about their green credentials and schools are no exception. Just as importantly, having a prominent visual reminder about energy use reminds staff and pupils alike that their actions have environmental consequences and it should therefore encourage more energy conscious behaviour.

The way forward

Analysing a school’s energy consumption data can help pupils to figure out where to start with its energy saving efforts, where it can go next, and how well it is progressing. Better energy management can also lead to improvements in comfort for pupils and teachers, making conditions more conducive to teaching and learning.