"We have two schools that were built in the 1930s that have never had proper insulation," says Alex Stewart, the energy manager of Talladega County Schools. "One of our schools was built twenty years ago and never had its HVAC system replaced"
For school systems seeking to reduce costs and be more energy efficient, building age and HVAC condition matter a great deal.
17 schools – 10 year ROI
With 17 schools, the Talladega County School System is making a concerted effort to reduce energy use. Prior to receiving a $756,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Energy via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the school system was unable to fund all the school structural renovations needed to improve energy efficiency.
"We always knew that we needed to make these improvements, and the money from the Recovery Act allowed us to move forward with the project," says Stewart.
The Talladega County School System has contracted with several private businesses to update schools' thermostats, replace windows and retrofit lighting systems. The majority of the money will support renovating schools' HVAC systems, which use more electricity than any other device found in school buildings.
According to Stewart, the renovations should bring enough savings to realize a return-on-investment in less than 10 years. The renovations should be completed by the end of September, meaning schools can expect to spend less of their annual budget on energy during the 2010-2011 school year.
Treating schools like home
Prior to assuming his current position, Stewart worked several years as a principal and assistant principal. His experience taught him that school staff members don't always follow best practices for conserving energy, a problem he has worked to correct.
"We have tried to get teachers and principals to treat their classrooms and schools like they would treat their homes," says Stewart. "This involves making sure that all electronic devices are shut down at the end of the day, all windows and blinds are closed and thermostats are set at an appropriate level."
Since 2006, Stewart has helped oversee the Talladega County Schools System's energy management project. The school district worked with Energy Education, Inc. from Dallas, Texas to develop a comprehensive energy management program. Stewart's job has chiefly consisted of communicating this plan to teachers, principals and other school staff and making sure that schools follow best practices for minimizing their energy consumption.
Behaviors such as turning off computers at the end of the day may seem somewhat inconsequential. Even so, by managing energy usage, the Talladega School System has reduced its costs by $2.3 million over the past four years.