Ohio Schools Turn to Technology to Cut Utility Bills

About 30 years ago, it was generally up to the school custodian to turn down the heat, adjust the air conditioning or shut off the lights at the end of the day. Today, all this can be done without the person being responsible for these tasks even being inside the building! Sound like science fiction? At one time it might have been, but some school districts, such as Columbus, Ohio, are reaping the money-saving benefits of utilizing such a system. Schools offering Information Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

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Extreme Energy Management

Big Brother is watching Columbus City Schools. That might sound ominous, but it's not. Via several computer screens, the temperature, humidity and power failures and consumption are being monitored at about 140 school buildings from a converted warehouse not far from the Ohio Expo Center.

Need the air conditioning automatically shut down when it's not needed? The time cycle on the gas boiler adjusted? Heat or air set to come on in only certain parts of the school at any given time or day? It can all be done from miles away. 'I can control anything from here,' the school district's Energy Management Department employee Yong In Son told The Columbia Dispatch in July, 2011.

How? By having the controls and motherboards of every school's climate-control system tied into the central location. All systems are monitored through the Internet in real-time. And if there's a problem, notification is sent to Son and his supervisor, Daniel Spence, via cellphone. Alerts are sent 24 hours per day.

Son and Spence do their jobs, and do them well. They are lauded for using the system in the best possible way to save the school district as much money as possible. When the system indicated that one of the schools was using more electricity than it should be, it was Son who found that the gym lights were being left on at night. Problem solved.

The department is also cautious when making decisions. While solar energy remains a future possibility, use of solar panels now has been held off due to cost. Spence has acknowledged that 'payback' on solar panels is not good at this time.

While exactly how much is not known, careful monitoring by the Energy Management Department has led to savings, and not just by shutting out the lights when everyone's gone or turning down the heat on weekends. For example, discrepancies have been caught by the office secretary totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. In one instance, a faulty meter at a closed school led to charges of about $10,000-$15,000 per month!

When your utility bill is just over $16 million a year, every little bit can count. And due to the efforts of the Energy Management Department, it's 'lights out' when it comes to high utility bills for the Columbus City school district!

Technology can have much more of an impact on education than saving on the light bill; find out how some rural Texas students can benefit from updated videoconferencing equipment.

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