Wicomico County Public Schools
Location: Wicomico County, MD
Total Savings & Payments: Approximately $121,000 in DR payments, and nearly $1.8M in savings since 2006
Additional Benefits Community engagement, tracking and measurement, and improved student experience
The Big Picture
Wicomico County Public Schools (WCPS) is comprised of twenty-five K-12 schools in Maryland, with a range of facilities built in the 1930s through the early 2010s. The school district has an eye towards energy efficient buildings: WCPS is currently building its first LEED-certified (middle) school and already has seven ENERGY STAR certified schools. The district’s facilities house approximately 14,500 students and more than 2,700 additional staff. This school year, the district had an energy budget of $3.5 million to cover 2.2 million square feet of school space, plus 75,000 square feet of portable classrooms.
WCPS’s Energy Manager, James Urbanski, and Mark E. Miller, CPPO, CPPB, C.P.M, WCPS’s Procurement Manager, are tasked with managing that sizable budget. Keeping costs down and budgets in line is a particularly daunting challenge in Maryland given the volatility of local energy markets. The team knew that to be successful, they would need to bring in external expertise and rely on powerful software tools to give them more granular visibility into 1) how the District’s 25 schools were buying energy, 2) how much they were using, and 3) how they were going to fund continued investments in better energy management. Enter EnerNOC, which has been providing its energy intelligence software and professional services to WCPS since 2006.
Buying Energy Better: Managing Budget and Risk Exposure
WCPS is a founding member of the Eastern Shore of Maryland Educational Consortium Energy Trust (ESMEC-ET), an energy purchasing cooperative founded in May 2001 serving the region’s schools and other government entities. In 2006, ESMEC-ET partnered with South River Consulting, a company that was later acquired by EnerNOC and is now a part of the Company’s Professional Services team.
EnerNOC’s team of energy procurement experts helped design a purchasing strategy that matched WCPS’s budget and risk profile, advising ESMEC-ET to switch from a retail fixed-rate purchasing strategy to a sub-account strategy that enabled ESMEC-ET to purchase energy directly on the wholesale market. EnerNOC provided the expert guidance and transparency required to navigate the complicated purchasing strategy, while at the same time, keeping members informed about their risk exposure and helping participants accurately forecast energy spend. Miller notes, “As a government entity, knowing the approximate cost of next year’s electricity is important.”
The engagement didn’t stop when the ink on the contract was dry. The EnerNOC team continues to advise WCPS on all matters energy related, including market conditions, energy purchasing strategies, and budget recommendations. It also helps the district comply with the State of Maryland’s Green Energy requirements. This thoughtful approach to energy procurement and commitment to an ongoing two-way relationship helped insulate WCPS from much of the volatility that characterized 2006-2010, and continues to yield positive results. “Currently our downward risk is almost non-existent and our upward reward is great,” says Miller. “Our position will be excellent when the general economy improves.”
The Power of Real-time Data
In 2011, WCPS moved beyond a simple professional services engagement and deployed EnerNOC’s energy intelligence software, which gave Urbanski and his team visibility into the district’s real-time energy data. As a way to offset the cost of the software, WCPS also enrolled in demand response with EnerNOC, a program that generates over $120,000 in new revenue annually for WCPS. Demand response allowed Urbanski and his team to get access to their facilities’ real-time energy quickly and at very low-cost. “You have to have a window into what you’re using, when you’re using it; otherwise, by the time that you make the correction, there’s money already lost that you’re never going to get back,” explains Urbanski. “I had started looking into installing smart meters because I had no way to get the information I needed easily or cost effectively. But, it would have taken me a few years to [get the budget approved]. EnerNOC allowed me to get it done in just a couple of months.”
Days after deploying EnerNOC’s energy intelligence software, Urbanski was already identifying occurrences of energy waste. “Within the first two days that we had the software, I saw an anomaly that was happening in every one of my schools,” notes Urbanski. The buildings were setting their peak at midnight every night due to a programming error with the older building automation system that had been in the system since its inception in the 1990s or early 2000s, Urbanski estimated. “I was able to correct that within a day. So 72 hours out of the box, we saved a ton of money for the district.” Without energy intelligence software, Urbanski wouldn’t have been able to identify that midnight peak – or immediately confirm that the changes had been effective. “There would have been no other way that I could find that using electric bills for my energy tracking,” he says.
Having EnerNOC’s energy intelligence software has definitely created a devotee to the power of real-time data. “I start my day every day by logging into EnerNOC and looking at my aggregate profile from the night before,” notes Urbanski. “I zero in right down to the one day and five minute [intervals] and I look for anomalies.”
Urbanski also relies on the EnerNOC data to make smarter decisions about scheduling for the district. “We don’t shut down in June and open back up in September,” says Urbanski. “There are a lot of events that take place in our buildings throughout the summer like summer school and workshops. The communities are using the buildings constantly.” Urbanski uses EnerNOC’s software to look at load profiles and helps determine what areas in which buildings are the most efficient to hold after-hour school events and summertime events. “Our assistant superintendent will ask me, ‘Jim what’s it going to take to hold this event in this classroom in this school? Should we do it?’”, Urbanski says. If the estimates are high, they don’t do it. “We lock it down and move on to a more efficient place.”
Using data to inform smarter decision-making helps WCPS meet its energy management goals. “EnerNOC provides us with real-time data and analytics that enable us to make informed decisions so that we can effectively reduce our energy costs, while maintaining a quality environment for education,” says Urbanski.
Diving Deeper with Analyst Expertise
Urbanski became an active user of EnerNOC’s software, using the data to make a number of operational changes that positively impacted overall energy spend. In 2013, he agreed to upgrade his deployment at 10 of his schools, enlisting EnerNOC’s Professional Services team to provide data analytics and energy analyst support. Urbanski admits that he was skeptical that EnerNOC’s Professional Services team would be able to find any additional savings. “I had been looking at the data and had really gotten to know my profile. I had knocked out my peaks, made my curves smooth, and flattened out my weekends and off-hours. I figured that the EnerNOC analysts wouldn’t be able to find much that I hadn’t already discovered, but they did,” says Urbanksi. “We were quite surprised at what the analytics team found for us.”
The EnerNOC Professional Services team digs further into the data to help Urbanski better track which initiatives are working and which aren’t, and provides assistance in using the software to quantify the opportunities in real dollars.
“The team pointed out so many intricacies of our energy profile that we were just overlooking,” says Urbanski. He uses the analyst team’s learnings from a subset of his school buildings and applies it to the rest of his portfolio. “If we find an anomaly at one building, on one meter, usually we can look through all of our usage and find the same thing going on in different buildings,” he says.
“EnerNOC is our window into everything we do for energy,” Urbanski adds. Having the analysts review his data allowed him to “relax a little bit” about looking at his facilities’ meters; “I know someone else is looking at them, too,” he says.
Energy usage, including everything from propane to electricity, plummeted nearly 20% since making EnerNOC’s software part of their comprehensive energy management strategy. In terms of dollars, WCPS has realized nearly $1.8 million in savings since 2006 – on top of $120,000 in earned annual revenue from demand response.
No Impact on the Student Experience
The first tenet of WCPS’s energy management program is to provide a quality environment for the students so that they can achieve their highest academic potential. Solutions that have the potential to negatively impact the student experience are non-starters. EnerNOC worked with WCPS to design demand response energy reduction strategies that would go mostly unnoticed by students and staff, such as slight adjustments in HVAC system settings and turning off non-essential lighting.
The second tenet of WCPS’s energy management program is to use taxpayer money wisely. EnerNOC’s approach is unique among other energy management options because it includes a built-in funding mechanism through demand response. “You start bringing in some checks, and that gets people’s attention,” says Urbanski. More broadly, from 2006 to 2013, WCPS has realized approximately $1.8 million in savings from both procurement and energy conservation measures.
A Proactive Approach
“My favorite part of the EnerNOC software is the alerts,” says Urbanski. “Once I understood my tariffs and my load profiles, I could set alerts so that I’m not going over my current peak demand. It’s very important to know with enough lead time when that’s going to happen so your actions can have a quick result.”
Better Tracking and Measurement
Prior to deploying EnerNOC’s software, WCPS was relying primarily on accounting software to manage energy spend. “But that didn’t really lend itself to tracking energy use, finding efficiencies, or measuring the conservation you’re achieving with any of your projects,” explains Urbanski. Before EnerNOC, “if we made a change, I didn’t see any results for sixty days, sometimes longer, depending on what the turn-around time on the bill was.”
Urbanski frequently uses reports and analyses generated from EnerNOC’s software to share information from the district’s Energy Management Team and other key stakeholders. “The data we get from EnerNOC has helped me show the higher-ups that it’s very important that we all sit down and look at how we’re using energy and where our opportunities are,” notes Urbanski. He also uses EnerNOC reports to keep the school board informed of the Energy Management Team’s progress and their energy efficiency efforts.
An Energy-Passionate Community
WCPS is leveraging their energy data from EnerNOC to develop a “Smart Energy Program” to engage students and faculty in the district’s energy management strategy. The program team is planning to install energy dashboards in the district’s schools to inform the faculty and students of all of the schools’ energy usage and conservation efforts. Urbanski says he hopes the effort will “show them – in real-time – what they’re using in quantities so that they can understand, like how many cars we took off the road by saving this much energy, or how many trees it equates to being planted, and what our carbon footprint is – that’s what we want in the curriculum.”
Urbanski concludes, “I like to think that with our conservation initiatives, Wicomico County is blazing the trail.” WCPS will continue to be an advocate for the power of real-time data in making smarter energy decisions. “We can peer into anything we want and make a change and see what happens,” says Urbanski. “And I think that everyone should be using something like that. Because if you can’t see it, you don’t know you’re using it, so you can’t conserve it and use it responsibly.”