Closing budget gaps with energy savings through building automation technology


Many organizations are currently facing gaps in their budgets or will be facing them in the years to come. For the purposes of this article, I’ll use schools as an example of an institution type; however, the challenges and solutions noted apply to most types of facilities in all sectors, whether industrial, commercial or institutional.


There are the three main budgetary challenges that schools will soon face:

  1. ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds will have run out
  2. A shortage of educators and competition in the teaching labor market require higher salaries and bonuses to attract and retain good employees
  3. Inflation rate of 8.6% in May 2022
  4. Short-term electricity costs (cost per kWh) expected to rise 3% (US Energy Information Administration)

This will cause problems for school districts to find funding sources for new construction and renovations. Even emergency funds may be needed to end the year. It will be much leaner than previous years and will create gaps that will need to be filled. Districts may struggle to find the money needed for the job. Entrepreneurs too.

What is the solution?

The energy gap filler: One of the best sources of “space filler” is found in energy savings. Energy management can help keep a building program going. It doesn’t have to come at the cost of stuffy classrooms. Some of the simplest projects and strategies can add up to a lot of savings. If energy can be front and center in HVAC, lighting, building envelope, etc., suppliers and school districts can benefit and close these gaps using energy savings. energy.

There are always those non-LED lights, single-glazed windows, doors, or old rooftop units lying around that need fixing. Contractors could offer free building inspections and help districts locate areas for improvement by offering energy recoveries as a solution. You can find a project that was never done and is still waiting.

The gap filler in building automation: Building automation systems (BAS) or energy management systems (EMS) are one of the best tools to “spread the closing of the energy gap”. They do more than turn things on or off. There are a wide variety of things the right system can do to save money by closing these gaps. Updating a building automation system can result in significant savings.

The use of time can be a great reward. The SC middle school, for example, only needs to run a entire campus approximately 2,400 out of 8,760 hours per year. That’s 6,360 hours where savings can occur. A district can save up to 10% per year on heating and cooling by simply lowering the setpoint temperature by 7° to 10°F for 8 hours a day from its occupied setting (US Dept of Energy). This is a great source of income, especially since the average school district spends about $2 million a year.

Repair time = windshield time: Windshield time can be expensive. Hourly labor rates, high gas prices, and even higher vehicle maintenance are a great second place to start looking for fillers. Avoiding just one service call can save $40/hr. at $50/hr. Remote access to the BAS for HVAC, electrical, or even water heater calls can help determine if one is legit or not. It can also help identify and prioritize which “needed” parts are urgent and which are not so urgent.

Replacement or repair: Schools in South Carolina operate from two main budgets – general and capital. The best way to transfer money from capital to general is to save energy. The second best is deferred maintenance costs. With Return on Investment (ROI) studies, a district has a better chance of knowing which direction to proceed for replacement or repair. The Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) should include energy consumption and deferred maintenance costs.

Energy can be used to help fill budget gaps that will challenge schools in the near future. If they prepared now, there would be fewer and fewer gaps for the contractor and the school district.

Tony Holcomb is an energy consultant at Harris Integrated Solutions. He is a retired director of maintenance and operations for Georgetown County Schools in South Carolina. He was vice president of the Association of South Carolina Energy Managers for three years, won the South Carolina Energy Manager of the Year award in 2016, and won the South Carolina Energy Project of the Year award in 2013. For Holcomb, his greatest professional accomplishment hasn’t been having to increase the Georgetown County School District’s energy budget over 14 years, helping to keep teachers employed and students learning.


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