Energy Manager

Energy efficiency: how schools and colleges are making a difference

At this year’s Energy Matters Summit, presented by the Region of Peel, representatives from school boards and colleges explained how knowledge sharing across their organizations is becoming a promising tool for finding energy savings opportunities.

May 11, 2009  By Robert Colman

Conservation concentration
Norm Vézina, Senior Manager of Environmental and Office Services at York Catholic District School Board is also Energy Conservation Officer for the Ontario Ministry of Education. In this latter role, he is supporting the province’s goal of reducing energy consumption by about 10 per cent over the next five years. Part of his role is to identify and promote best practices in energy management, conservation and procurement.

To achieve these goals, the school boards need data. With more than 5,000 schools and 72 different school boards all operating a little differently, this seems like a monumental task, but with the monitoring and measuring technology available today, it’s getting easier. Vézina has engaged (through an RFP process) a consultant who will get the data on a daily basis and keep it updated.

“Once that database is established, we will be able to establish some benchmarks and identify the schools or boards that are doing very well,” says Vézina. The goal is to sit down with these schools and boards, find out what their best practices are and then promote these best practices to other boards that need to up their performance.

To implement best practices, of course, takes money. Vézina recognizes this, and to manage the process he has engaged an incentive program advisor who basically has the job of finding out what incentives are available for different school boards, then design or try to marry the best programs that are out there with the needs of each and every school board. This is a two-year position, but Vézina is hoping to turn it into a more permanent role.


Technology is also playing an important role in another knowledge-sharing capacity – the creation of a web portal of energy efficiency tips. Through the energy best practices sub-committee of Ontario Association of School Business Officials (OASBO), the school board association of Ontario, this web portal is being created as another best practices sharing opportunity.

“Sometimes it’s not one initiative that (a school board) did but a combination of different initiatives,” explains Vézina. The web portal aims to provide information on utility incentives, best practices and other energy initiatives. Alternative energy tools — solar, ground source heat, etc. — is another area in which Vézina hopes to create more sharing opportunities between boards by creating an inventory of what has been done where. This way, some direct contact can be made with the school board that championed certain technologies.

Energy secretariat
Spencer Wood, Manager of Maintenance and Operations at Humber College, notes that there is a similarly supportive atmosphere among the 24 colleges in Ontario, which collectively spend about $48 million on utilities a year. Wood notes that the facilities managers at the facilities, who are all on very tight budgets, work very well together.

“There are two main initiatives where we’ve done so,” explains Wood. “One is the energy secretariat we’ve created. The other is the real time operating system we have for metering. The approach is to leverage the best practices across the province at relatively low cost. We haven’t spent a lot of money on this.”

The energy secretariat was created in 2006 to support and coordinate energy conservation initiatives.

“What the secretariat does is act as a resource to share energy efficiency knowledge and best practices between colleges,” says Wood. “They don’t get deeply into energy audits of buildings or anything like that, but if you’re doing a project like looking at a lighting retrofit, you can call them up and say, ‘what should I look at?’ and they might say that, say, Seneca has done a really good project with T5 ballasts, and they would guide them to the right person at Seneca to talk to.”

The secretariat was funded by the Ontario Power Authority, and Wood sees it as a big success. It has also served to help with the procurement of power as well.

In fact, procurement is an area where Wood considers the colleges work particularly well together. Since the market opened in 2002, 22 of 24 colleges have participated in a procurement group, with the energy secretariat acting as an independent advisor.

“Over the past six years now, we’ve saved 15 per cent over the RPP price, which works about to about $5 million a year,” says Wood.

The second initiative Wood discussed was the real time metering system installed for all of the colleges. Meters at all the different colleges plug into a central system that gives real-time data about usage and cost.

“We can look at what energy is costing us right now,” says Wood. “The system also stores that data, so you can go back and analyze the trends. We can also use it to verify energy efficiency results, use it to benchmark and compare one college to another. We can also correct for students, weather, any number of things. We’re just getting into calculating our carbon footprint with it as well. The nice thing is that it will give us consistency across the province and everybody’s doing it the same way.”

What both of these examples demonstrate is how scale and sharing of resources is making a big difference in schools and colleges across Ontario. This becomes ever more important as resources get tight.

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