Grand Prairie School District

Fast Facts

Industry: Education
Location: Grand Prairie, TX
Programs: ERCOT Emergency Interruptible Load Service, Oncor Commercial Load Management Program
DR Strategy: Curtailment
Energy Reduction Strategy: Temporary adjustment of HVAC load
Total Annual Savings & Payments: Approximately $500,000


Grand Prairie Independent School District (GPISD) educates over 26,000 students across nearly 4.5 million square feet of building space in Grand Prairie, TX. Already one of the largest school districts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Grand Prairie ISD is growing rapidly, adding 760,000 square feet of building space since 2007.

Jerry Palermo, Energy Manager and Scheduling Coordinator for GPISD, is responsible for managing energy costs at this large and growing school district. A former computer applications instructor, Palermo understands the power of information technology. "Information systems help me work smarter and not harder," he says. However, when he first started as GPISD’s Energy Manager in 2005, Palermo was lacking real-time information technology to manage the District’s energy use. According to Palermo, "I could get our energy data from our utility thirty days later. Then I would have to grab the information off their portal, put it into a spreadsheet, then put in a graph, and then show it. That really didn’t help me. I wanted it real-time, so I could actually see things happening."

On the hunt for real-time energy monitoring technology, Palermo was introduced to EnerNOC’s energy intelligence software in 2010. Palermo liked that EnerNOC’s software provides access to real-time energy data, and he became even more interested when he learned that part of the software costs could be offset by demand response payments. "Combining demand response with the real-time energy monitoring was really appealing," says Palermo. "I knew this was what we wanted."

Earning Payments from Demand Response

To help fund GPISD’s investment in energy intelligence software, the District started with demand response, a program that pays energy users to temporarily reduce energy consumption when the electric grid is stressed. Specifically, GPISD partnered with EnerNOC to enroll in 2 local demand response programs: ERCOT Emergency Interruptible Load Service and the Oncor Commercial Load Management program.

During demand response dispatches, GPISD lowers their energy use temporarily by making adjustments to their HVAC system at selected schools. Importantly, GPISD deploys reduction measures that have no effect on student or teacher comfort. Palermo says, "I use any means I can to save on our electricity that will not compromise the classroom environment that’s conducive for learning." GPISD earns thousands of dollars through their participation in demand response programs, which it then reinvests to pay for the full suite of EnerNOC's energy intelligence software.

Finding Savings Through Energy Intelligence Software

Palermo says the EnerNOC software is a key component of his energy management operations. Until he began partnering with EnerNOC, he had no way to easily monitor energy use across the 58 square-mile footprint of his District. Palermo walks the schools during non-operating hours –weekends, holidays, even at 2:30am – to ensure everything is shut down, but as Palermo puts it, "we have 39 educational facilities. I’m one person."

Although Palermo still visits schools regularly to conduct energy audits, EnerNOC's energy intelligence software allows him to more efficiently prioritize his actions and identify immediate energy efficiency opportunities. "When we have a break, like during Spring break or Christmas break or Thanksgiving break, the first thing I do is pull up the District schools on EnerNOC. And then I’ll say, 'Oh, how come we’re running high today?' EnerNOC has allowed me to identify schools that didn’t catch the shutdown properly. The money that we save there is great."

"Work Smarter and Not Harder"

The benefits of energy intelligence software expand far beyond energy savings. GPISD also uses the software for project measurement and verification and to inform operational and scheduling decisions.

By measuring energy savings and verifying that projects are performing as expected, Palermo can quantify the value of investing in energy efficiency projects. After installing T5 florescent lamps and adjusting the HVAC schedule at one of the District’s high school gymnasiums, Palermo used EnerNOC’s software to calculate that these measures were saving the District $1,100 per month. The savings helped Palermo justify the District’s decision to retrofit and adjust the HVAC scheduling at an even larger gymnasium at another high school.

Palermo also used EnerNOC's software to verify the operational effectiveness of capital upgrades. After a new Energy Management System (EMS) was installed at Grand Prairie High School, Palermo noticed that their energy usage was higher than expected. "Because of EnerNOC, I could show the EMS vendor the trends from what it was before and then after the installation," says Palermo. "Then the EMS Company came over and started getting their system correct. Through our calculations, we would’ve spent about $50,000 extra each year if they hadn’t fixed it."

Real-time energy data also supports Palermo’s responsibilities as the Scheduling Coordinator for GPISD. Palermo measures the energy cost of using different facilities for extracurricular activities. This helps inform his decisions on the best facilities for various extracurricular activities, based on the size of the group and type of activity. "I want to understand what it’s costing the District if we use a big area like the gymnasium," says Palermo. "Is there another area we could use?" Palermo can also tell when groups are using facilities without authorization. "I can tell when the lights get turned on through EnerNOC. I’ll run over there and say 'guys, you can't be in here.' That’s how we save."

EnerNOC's energy intelligence software supports Palermo's maxim of using technology to help him and his team "work smarter and not harder." "Anytime I do anything, it's to help our staff to be more successful at what they're doing," says Palermo. "Our electricians, HVAC technicians, and facilities directors depend on good information that’s managed well. That's the key, and that's what EnerNOC does."

Competing for Energy Dollars

Despite the challenges of expansive growth, GPISD has been able to save over $500,000 annually through energy cost avoidance, resulting in a 14% decrease in energy spend per student. A portion of the energy savings are invested back in the schools directly through incentive dollars awarded through an energy efficiency competition.

The GPISD energy efficiency competition starts with a walkthrough audit of every room in every school in the District. Schools earn penalty points for inefficient practices that do not contribute to the educational environment, such as having personal refrigerators in classrooms, or leaving computers, monitors, and lights turned on in unoccupied areas. In 2010, the first year of the competition, lights were left on in 104 unoccupied classrooms. In 2013, lights were left on in only 24 classrooms. Similarly, there were 1,100 monitors left on and 327 personal refrigerators in classrooms throughout the District in 2010. In 2013, there were only 610 monitors left on and only 60 personal refrigerators in classrooms throughout the District.

Monetary prizes are awarded to the top 3 schools in each category, with the winning schools receiving $2,500. Palermo finds that incentive money, no matter how small, is an effective way to motivate students and staff to reduce energy use. "They get very excited; they're very competitive," says Palermo. "Through the help of teachers and the principals we are able to reduce our usage."

An "A+" in Efficiency

GPISD’s energy management efforts have earned the district recognition from local and national organizations. After a cold snap in January 2014 caused a grid emergency across Texas, GPISD's energy efficiency and demand response efforts were profiled on the evening news by the local NBC affiliate, KXAS-TV. Additionally, 37 of the District’s 39 schools have received ENERGY STAR certification, indicating that they are more efficient than 75% of peer buildings nationwide.

GPISD's best-in-class performance has also been recognized by EnerNOC's team of certified energy professionals. EnerNOC's analysts usually identify thousands of dollars in energy savings opportunities when analyzing energy data from a typical school system. However, due to GPISD's proactive use of energy intelligence software and persistence in reducing energy waste, EnerNOC's analysts find that GPISD is at the top of their class. As EnerNOC analyst Luis Sano-Espinosa puts it, "GPISD is on our energy efficiency Honor Roll. They do everything right, from night and weekend shutdowns, to peak demand mitigation. It's very hard to find anything wrong with their energy management approach."