You might think “energy management” is as easy as flipping a light switch off or adjusting your thermostat.
That might be the case for your home, but not for a large operation like a school district. However, Judson Independent School District has taken on the task, and is now reaping the rewards.
Lee Raspberry, Judson’s energy management director, makes sure the lights come on every day at 27 campuses. At this time of year, he also has to be sure cooling systems are working to keep more than 26,000 students and teachers comfortable. All the while, he’s got to be a good steward of public dollars.
“We have to be the best stewards of the resources we have,” he says.
Two years ago, Raspberry looked to CPS Energy’s commercial demand response program to make the most of the district’s new energy management system and conservation plan. Demand response participants voluntarily reduce their energy use during periods of extreme temperatures – like hot summer days – to help ensure the reliability of the state electric grid.
In return, they receive financial incentives for their successful participation.
That’s handy for schools, most of which don’t go dark after the final bell in June. Many host a variety of community programs and events, calling for lights and cooling systems to be on daily in many facilities while students are away on summer break.
Raspberry and his assistant, Andy Jimenez, monitor and adjust the energy use at their schools on normal days and when CPS Energy asks participants to reduce their energy use. Jimenez, using the district’s energy management system and a schedule of events for the whole district, can quickly customize an energy reduction plan for each school.
The process starts with mechanical systems like chillers and air handlers (which comprise 56% of the district’s energy consumption), then moves to lighting reduction (21% of district’s consumption). Jimenez can dial back several pieces of equipment at each school to reach the district’s goals. While the temperature in a cafeteria, classroom, or even a locker room, may become a degree or two warmer for a short time during a reduction, Raspberry says it’s rarely noticed.
“You’re going to find that the majority of folks on your campuses don’t even know you’re doing it,” says Raspberry.
The district first tried demand response at four schools. Things went so well, it upped its participation to 11 schools this past summer. The district committed to 1,500 kilowatts of energy reduction, but finished the summer doubling that number. That success will result in a rebate check this fall from CPS Energy for around $100,000.
“We turn around and put that money back into the district,” Raspberry says. “We took our savings from last year and reinvested that into a campus lighting retrofit at Judson Middle School. We’re doing the entire campus in LEDs.”
He plans to invest this year’s rebate in two new chillers for the district. From a budget perspective, he says it makes sense to buy high efficiency chillers versus conventional models. A high efficiency model may cost more, but the energy savings realized through that equipment, combined with a CPS Energy rebate, will quickly offset that additional cost. It also will allow the district to generate income from the annual energy savings realized over the life of that investment.
Rick Luna oversees CPS Energy’s demand management and analysis program. He says Judson ISD is a model for how easy it can be to get started. CPS Energy helped Judson by auditing several schools to identify energy-saving ideas.
“Judson ISD shows that energy management can work for even the most complex organization,” says Luna. “If you have the willingness to try, we’ll work with you on a simple strategy to make energy savings pay for your business.”
Raspberry encourages other school districts and organizations to commit to energy management and to participate in programs like demand response.
“My opinion is, if you’re not doing this, then you’re not doing everything you can do to be the best steward of the public dollar,” he says.