K-12 School Districts Benefit From An Energy Systems Optimization Approach

As a K-12 school district undertaking an energy efficiency project, it is crucial to look for a partner who has a wide range of expertise and takes into consideration all of your needs and constraints: the needs of your students and teachers, the ability and experience to work in sensitive environments, and the expertise to innovate a custom project that delivers maximum financial and energy savings, while meeting your budget constraints.

Plumas Lake Elementary School District, a K-12 school district in Northern California, found itself in that exact situation last year.

The school district wanted to take advantage of California’s Proposition 39 funding to optimize their energy systems and improve their learning environments.

In searching for a firm to partner with, the district found that the traditional energy consulting companies provided a solution that came with high overhead, unsubstantiated budgets that inflated prices, and no ownership of the success of the project. On top of that, the proposed solution lacked a design component and didn’t take the student’s or teacher’s needs into account. The district found a smarter alternative with an energy systems optimization approach.

This new trend in energy efficiency gave the district a team of experts trained to innovate and design an optimal solution with only the district’s needs in mind. The proposed solution included the installation of new lighting, advanced lighting control and HVAC control systems that featured open protocol controls — allowing the district to tie all systems together, giving them full control of their building’s energy systems to achieve an optimized environment for students and teachers.

With the Proposition 39 funding, the district was able to complete this bundled energy project to increase the overall lighting quality inside and outside their school buildings and to enhance the indoor air quality and temperature, making spaces more learner friendly and safer, while saving money to be spent elsewhere.

During the Proposition 39 project, a collaborative partnership formed with their energy systems optimization expert, SmartWatt, and Plumas Lake wanted to take their project one step further. Soon the district and SmartWatt began innovating a way to save even more money: a solar PV system that could generate enough solar energy to power the district’s entire energy needs and protect them from rising utility costs.

SmartWatt started the arduous task of designing a solar PV system that met the requirements of California’s Division of the State Architect, which manages the construction process of projects at public school districts in the state, while maintaining a positive cash flow throughout the term of the project Because the district had reduced their energy requirements before installing the PV system, maintaining a positive cash flow was achievable.

Solar panels were installed on the roofs of three schools and the district achieved its net-zero goal of generating all its power to run the district. The district now uses a web-based monitoring system to ease maintenance and report on performance with a real-time solar production dashboard display.

In addition to the financial and energy savings, the district is experiencing improved indoor environments and safer outdoor spaces, giving their users the ability to focus on what matters most – learning and teaching.


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