(Written with Rupert Whiting, Rede Energy Solutions)
Our maintenance department rarely gets the credit they deserve. The department is so vital in ensuring that our facilities and buses run smoothly, yet we really only appreciate the work they do after something goes wrong. It’s time more people knew about some of the proactive and preventative work they do, more specifically the behind-the-scenes work that is going into managing the energy consumption in School District No. 27 because this impacts everyone in the district in different ways.
First, let me start by explaining the overall intent of the program, and then I will get to how it impacts you.
The program has been created in response to two key circumstances and two key objectives of the district.
The first circumstance is the ongoing program of work that we are doing in conjunction with BC Hydro & Fortis BC to make major capital investments in our schools to lower energy usage in the future, and the second circumstance is the rising costs of the energy that we do consume.
The first objective that has driven this program is our aim to be good stewards of our environment. More than wasting money, wasting energy is something that we need to cut down for the good of both our local and global environments. The other significant objective that we have is to have our students graduate as contributing, aware citizens who are responsible for the impact that they have in life. This program advances both objectives.
Our aim is to have “Every Joule Drive a School.” We are happy to pay for energy as long as it advances education, and we have discovered that we could certainly improve in this area.
Therefore, unknown to most of you, we have been meeting monthly for a year or so to make sure that SD27 will be amongst the most energy smart school districts in Canada. The Quantum Team, as we have called ourselves, is made up of me, Kevin Futcher, our Secretary Treasurer, our Maintenance Team led by Alex Telford (Manager of Facilities & Transportation), representatives of the teachers and principals, our IT dept and our external energy management consultants, Rede Energy Solutions. Together we have been putting in the foundations of a really cutting-edge energy management system that involves the in-depth analysis of the patterns of our energy use. This analysis is helping us to identify and prioritize the investments needed to minimize any waste of energy.
It is this program that instigated projects such as:
• The solar wall at Lake City Secondary
• The new wood pellet boilers in Alexis Creek and Tatla Lake
Some projects create energy, others save it, and it is all progress towards our goals.
What makes our program even more groundbreaking is that we are also using the projects created by the Quantum Team and our maintenance department to provide content for classroom learning.
We have installed numerous new meters in some of our schools to gather more data on how we use energy. Through these, we now have information available to most schools that can be used in the curriculum from Grades 4-12. Aligned with our desire to see more learning conducted in a project-based format, these engineering projects are great catalysts for full-class and individual study projects. What is more, the data is coming from the students’ own environments, and it directly impacts their lives which, we hope, will make it all the more relevant and interesting.
Let me give you two prime examples of where the behind-the-scenes energy management data can drive student learning:
1. Through our new monitoring system at Lake City Secondary (Columneetza Campus), we know that the Industrial Arts building has an hourly energy consumption that never falls below 12kW (kilowatts) during the day.
That goes for weekends, overnight, school closures. It never seems to get below 12kW and, to be honest, we don’t yet know why. Just that base energy consumption alone is costing over $10,000 per year. To put that in context, the entire school at Horsefly School manages to get down to 16kW, so why is this Industrial Arts building so energy demanding? We need to investigate where so much money is being spent.
Before Quantum, this would have been a task for Alex Telford and his Maintenance Team to handle on their own. The students and teachers at the LCSS Columneetza Campus would be unaware of the problem and the solution. However, now we are going to open up the process of investigating that energy usage (and other puzzles like it) to the students and teachers who are interested. There will certainly be some math calculations, some physics and some chemistry involved and also some real-life work experience to be had as the engineers work out where all that power is going. There would even be opportunities to get Art, English, French and Social Studies projects from that single investigation.
2. Take a look at this graph that shows the energy used in Cataline Elementary on a typical school day.
With support from the Maintenance Team and our Energy Management Consultants, the students and teachers could have an educational experience and a lot of fun finding out why we hit peaks at some times and use less energy at other times. If in the process they find opportunities to turn something off sooner or to change how we use energy in the school, then so much the better. Any changes that the school decides to make will show up on the graph, and, through this new feedback loop, the students can really see the impact of their decisions and their actions.
On Friday, February 20th, we are holding a Pro-D day workshop for teachers interested to find out more about what data their school is capturing and how they can use that data and some fun new tools that we have available. The aim is to create interactive, deep and relevant learning opportunities for our students and new content for our teachers to get excited about too. I encourage any interested teachers to connect with Frances McCoubrey, the Teachers’ Representative on the Quantum Team, to learn more.
In summary, we are happy to be making great progress towards a time where SD27 is a leader in reducing energy wastage for the good of the environment, for the good of learning, and for the good of the budget.
You can find out more by visiting our webpage here on the district website where we are posting news about our program and some tips for how you and your class can do your bit to support these efforts.