Current Sustainable Schools Applied Research Projects
Strategic Energy Management for School Board Portfolios Project
The Sustainable Schools program is undertaking an applied research project to help Ontario school boards identify and achieve operational energy savings in their schools. This project is based on analysis done for our 2021 Top Energy Performing School Boards report. As part of that analysis, Sustainable Schools recorded substantial (greater than 20 percent) electricity and natural gas use savings and increases, in 2018/2019 school year vs. 2017/2018, in hundreds of schools across the province. The research project aims to identify the causes of these substantial savings and increases. We are particularly interested in the role of operational and maintenance factors and any initiatives undertaken by school staff and service contractors.
Sustainable Schools team will work with 5 Ontario school boards investigate the causes of material energy use increases and savings for up to 5 schools from each board. We will analyze monthly billing data, building automation systems, sub-metering and management practices that participating boards use to identify energy use variances in a timely manner and to initiate and verify appropriate action. After the analysis stage is complete, we will conduct a strategic energy management workshop with all five school boards and project partners/funders.
At the end of the project later this year, we will develop a best practices guidance report to summarize the anonymized results of the study. The guidance report can be used by all school boards to help them achieve energy savings, avoid energy increases, and build on local successes to achieve their goals.
High Efficiency Rooftop HVAC Unit Replacements Project
Rooftop units (RTUs) are the most prevalent form of HVAC units in Ontario’s K-12 schools. Current general practice is to replace end-of-life equipment with the same or an equivalent type of equipment which, while more efficient than older technology, does not take advantage of more efficient alternatives. Continuing addition of air conditioning in schools is expected to primarily consist of RTUs and must be done as efficiently as possible to avoid excessive utility costs and strain on the electrical system. As well as equipment selection, design details, commissioning practices and BAS programming can have a substantial effect on the efficiency of RTU installations. There is little empirical evidence to help inform school boards’ and their design consultants’ decision-making on best practices for upcoming projects and the business case for higher standards.
Working with 5 Ontario school boards, the Sustainable Schools team will evaluate design, operational performance, and energy efficiency of up to 10 recently retrofitted schools. One to two schools from each board will be selected for in-depth examination. Energy and operating data from the selected schools before and after the recent HVAC project installation will determine absolute and comparative performance. System design, equipment selection, commissioning practices and controls will be documented for each school and correlated with performance outcomes to help identify best practices. Alternative design and equipment options, including relative costs and performance, will be reviewed with the participating boards.
The research will produce an evidence-based guidance document for use by school boards and their design consultants to help improve the design, equipment selection, BAS programming and commissioning of future RTU replacement projects. The guidance document will be reviewed and finalized in a strategic workshop with the participating boards and project partners/funders. The strategic workshop will also explore the boards’ internal capability and organizational alignment for project development and address knowledge gaps with respect to energy efficiency and operating performance of their installations.