Students, Staff and Partners Team Up to Cut Energy Use

May. 23, 2019

​When you are the second largest property owner in a city the size of Calgary, you pay attention to your energy use.

The energy required to light and heat our 246 schools accounts for a big part of our operating costs, especially during the cold, dark months. So when you can find ways to reduce energy demand and consumption, there are big savings to be had.

At the Calgary Board of Education, energy intensity, the amount of energy used per square metre per year (both electricity and natural gas) has dropped over the last 12 years, thanks to a variety of actions.

Electrical energy intensity has dropped by about 15 per cent, despite the addition of 39 new schools. For natural gas, consumption per square metre is influenced largely by winter temperature fluctuations. Nonetheless, seven of the past 12 years saw less natural gas consumption per meter squared, even though the total area of CBE schools grew by 23 per cent.

“We’ve made these gains not through a single effort but through a combination of awareness activities, changes in practice and applying new technologies,” explains Sanjeev Sharma, environmental projects coordinator.

This has been made possible in part by fundraising efforts and corporate partnerships fostered by student-led projects. In many of our schools, these opportunities take the form of in-class and eco-club initiatives that are managed by student sustainability leaders and guided by staff to focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

The CBE works to manage and reduce its energy consumption through a comprehensive energy management strategy that includes:

  • Negotiating long-term energy contracts
  • Contracts with vendors who troubleshoot our building automation systems
  • IT power management (computer shut down)
  • New energy standards for major maintenance and school enhancement projects.
  • Utility Data Analysis – Staff use various computer programs to track and analyze energy use across the system. This kind of information helps identify which schools are high on the list for maintenance and renewal projects, as well as to forecast future consumption levels.
  • Benchmarking energy performance – Ranking the energy efficiency of large consumers is a growing trend as municipalities try to reduce their carbon intensity. Depending on the situation, cities may use incentives or fees to drive adoption of best practices.
  • Awareness campaigns for building occupants

At the CBE, electricity “challenges” see students play detective in tracking which rooms have lights left on while vacant. But before the lights go off, there are lessons about conservation shared through a variety educational approaches. One involves specially installed circuit meters that allow students to measure different levels of electrical demand depending on how many classrooms are lit up.

And through a city program called Eco Leaders, students at 24 CBE schools are gaining valuable leadership training and support for various sustainability projects. Our Facility Operators are also significant contributors; they receive training to be “energy champions” and set a positive example at schools.

“As a school district, our biggest greenhouse gas footprint comes from our buildings,” says Olena Olafson, sustainability coordinator. “So that’s where we need to get creative in how we use energy.”

She points out that as the CBE continues to grow, it obviously uses more energy each year. But by constantly looking for ways to increase efficiency, we are limiting the impacts of that growth.

“Energy in Alberta is relatively cheap, so we might not have the same incentives to be energy efficient that exist in other provinces. But when you look at our costs and environmental impacts as a large consumer, I believe we need to challenge ourselves to always do better.”

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