Saving the Energy Grid – One School at a Time

July 02, 2009

By Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

What if I told you how to promote efficient energy
use, become a
responsible environmental steward and reduce your risk of school
facility damage – while earning extra money? It seems too good to be
true. But this year we decided
to pilot a program with our
energy curtailment partner, ClearChoice Energy, that does exactly this
for schools in northern Illinois.

The program we're piloting, known as Demand Response,
is designed to encourage large
consumers (in this case, schools) to reduce energy use during days of
peak
energy demand. (For example, a school may be asked to cut back on their
energy use on a particularly hot summer day when the energy grid is
strained by lots of consumers running their air conditioners.) By doing
so, the school will help reduce the need to build
additional energy transmission lines and power plants, increase energy
reliability in their community and develop plans to reduce risk from
periods of
sudden energy loss. And did I mention that schools get paid to do this?

The first test of the 2009 program was last week:
one of the schools involved in our Demand Response program was asked to
cut back on energy use. So I
decided to head out to Nippersink School District #2 to speak to Dr.
Paul Hain, the district's business manager, to get a
feel for what it’s like to shut down a school's power on a day when
it’s 100 degrees
outside.

Check out a video of the school and Paul's comments on the experience:

 

 

A couple of things stood out to me: First, it
wasn’t
hard at all. This school is an older building that didn’t have
automated controls,
so they turned off the AC and the lights manually – not a big deal.
They just
needed someone to be in charge. That was Paul. As he told me, it just
required a little coordination and communication. And if you have a new
building with automatic controls,
it’s even easier.

Second, the element of coordination was key, particularly
with the IT staff. It became clear that the IT manager had to be in the loop
because they shut down all their computers – even their servers. But the IT
manager thought it was great to be part of the team that was saving money and
helping the community. And he’d rather be part of the planning process for this
type of program than be taken by surprise by an energy
brownout or blackout.

Third, the combination of incentives does make this a
compelling program. While no single incentive drives this program alone, the
combination of receiving cash rebates, reducing energy use, being a responsible community
partner, promoting environmental stewardship and reducing risk to property damage
all make it an interesting and compelling program. I’m sure any school
that participates will list the benefits in a different order of priority but,
taken as a whole, the program can appeal to a broad range of school
stakeholders.

I was glad to be part of Paul’s successful test of the
program and hope that next year we’ll be able to expand this program to more
schools. In the meantime, if you think your school may be interested in this,
take a moment to learn more about Demand Response. It’s not for everyone, but it
may play a complementary role to other green programs or money-saving efforts at your school.