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Saving energy in schools

Karl Walker, Market Development Manager at Beckhoff, and Jamie Finnan, Managing Director of TR Control Solutions, explain how the increasing concern around climate change is having an impact on attitudes among younger people to building management, and why students can now take more responsibility for managing the energy efficiency of their own schools and colleges.

It is often argued that school education only teaches you how to pass exams, but not how to deal with real life issues when you become an adult. Learning about volcanoes, the history of our country and foreign languages of course plays an important part in forming a bigger picture of how life on earth works, but when it comes to everyday living, such as applying for a mortgage, running a household and paying bills many of us have had to learn ‘on the job’. But could this be changing? With the rise of the Internet, and in particular social media over the past decade or two, we have access to more news, images and opinions than ever before, and the effect this has had on society is perhaps demonstrated best by the current crop of school and college students. Thanks to modern technology, students now have the opportunity to manage the energy performance of their own schools and colleges, something Beckhoff has been involved with through its work with ecoDriver from TR Control Solutions.

ecoDriver BEMS is an interoperable supervisory control solution which provides a transparent ‘single pane of glass’ view of a building’s systems. The ecoDriver gateway integrates with building control systems and sensors and securely transfers building operation data to the ecoDriver cloud service. By analysing a building’s energy consumption against its control strategy, ecoDriver BEMS can identify anomalies in a building’s operation, modify as appropriate so that the building operates within its ‘sweet spot’ and maintain the optimised performance level to retain savings.

Beckhoff’s interoperable and robust solutions deliver the gateway technology used to connect a variety of building control services with the ecoDriver BEMS solution. Building control services often supplied by different vendors and manufacturers tend to grow and change over time using a variety of communication interfaces and protocols. These systems are rarely integrated; for example, HVAC, DHWS and lighting controls will generally be independent of each other. Beckhoff’s interoperable technology can integrate with existing building controls and securely transfer data to the ecoDriver IoT cloud service using the lightweight MQTT messaging protocol. Locally, Beckhoff technology utitlises numerous communications protocols including BACnet, Modbus, M-Bus, DALI and KNX to name a few, thus providing a supervisory control layer which normalises and centralises services within the ecoDriver BEMS platform. Beckhoff’s highly expandable technology also provides the backbone for growth with the option to add more building controls and physical I/O.

Climate crisis

One of the biggest, or possibly the biggest, news items over the past couple of years has been climate change. In a recent BBC interview, legendary broadcaster and naturalist Sir David Attenborough stated, “The moment of crisis has come”. Those words from a renowned expert carry significant weight however old you are. Add them to the actions and messages of Greta Thunberg, who hascaptured the imagination of many young people with rousing speeches to world leaders imploring them to reduce our emissions, and it is inevitable that action will be inspired in one form or another.

In February last year school pupils across the UK staged an organised ‘strike’ in a bid to urge the government to do more to tackle the threat of climate change. But there comes a point where strikes and organised marches are not enough. Perhaps if we give students the trust, responsibility and, crucially, the tools to positively affect the environment they occupy, they will learn the skills to make a big difference in the long term. In some schools, this is already taking effect.

School project

ecoDriver has been working with schools for 15 years, and with tighter budgets there is increasing pressure to find cost savings wherever possible. A common view is that the cost of utilities is ring fenced within school budgets, e.g., “that is what it cost last year, therefore we need to budget the same +10% for this year, so savings need to come from elsewhere”.

This needn’t be the case; ecoDriver has delivered savings of between 10-51% on school energy consumption. In one example, the school’s actual energy consumption was three times higher than the building design estimate. There was no visibility of consumption profiles for the local premises team, and the BMS schedules, setpoints and exceptions had not been configured correctly. To resolve these issues, automated main meter data capture and reporting was integrated using ecoDriver, which subsequently allowed energy profiles to be displayed, reviewed and modified accordingly. A systematic approach to energy reduction was also implemented, which enabled the local premises manager to modify schedules and setpoints. The result was a 41% energy saving in less than four months.

But it is not just about reducing the cost of energy. With their futures at stake, students are becoming the most engaged and focused group when it comes to understanding the need for a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. To give them the responsibility of running their building efficiently, ecoDriver makes a school’s energy consumption visible to students in easy to understand charts, building layouts and reports, which empowers these young ‘eco warriors’ to do what they can to reduce waste. It also stimulates ideas and opportunities for the schools to reduce waste further.

Perfect Harmony

Returning to the earlier point about schools teaching students about real life situations, by handing them the responsibility of looking after their school’s energy performance they are gaining valuable life experience at an early age that will prepare them well for their future careers. This is a view shared by Richard Dunne, a former headteacher who founded the Harmony Project in 2018. The Harmony Project recognises the impact of human activity on the natural world, and humankind’s increasing disconnection from nature. Education is one of the sectors in which Richard has applied Harmony and he believes that by rethinking environmental education so that it is at the heart of learning, schools can encourage their students to actively engage with pressing environmental issues at the same time as teaching them valuable life skills.

Richard says:For the most part, sustainability in education is seen as an add-on. It might be presented as a one-off environmental day or eco week. It will almost certainly be presented outside of the formal curriculum. It may engage the interest of a good many students, but the mere fact that it is not integrated into the broader curriculum means that the opportunities to link learning together are unlikely to be explored.”

He adds: “We need to find ways to bring learning together around purposeful projects and give students a lead role in showcasing the outcomes of their research and the issues they want to address through this process.”

So, are the days of parents nagging their teenagers not to leave their bedroom lights burning when they go out finally over? Perhaps we are seeing the start of a generational revolution different to anything we have seen before. With the technology now available to them, today’s students really can play a leading role in managing their own environment at a local level, and this will have positive repercussions on a regional, national and even global scale now and into the future.

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