When Jaime Dydalewicz became Dripping Springs ISD’s energy specialist in 2011, school districts across the country were looking, as she said, “for every penny in their budgets — so we started an energy initiative.”
Dripping Springs ISD began to pursue conservation measures across a wide range of channels: The school district took advantage of PEC’s commercial lighting and HVAC rebates to help upgrade to more efficient systems. Some campuses introduced Watt Watchers or Green Team programs, in which student groups take responsibility for turning off lights and computer labs. Teachers were asked to start unplugging everything — even surge protectors — before long weekends and holidays. In addition, all of the schools have changed the run times of their major equipment.
“Basically, the buildings come on about an hour before students arrive, so that it’s comfortable when students actually start class,” Dydalewicz explained. “And when the school bell rings at the end of the day, the systems shut down again, except for areas where students are still going to be for after-school or athletic events.”
It may sound like a lot, says Dydalewicz, who walks the schools in the quiet mornings and evenings to make sure the systems have powered down, but these conservation measures have saved the district more than 19 percent of its expected energy costs this year alone — as of April 2017, more than $1.2 million.
“And it’s a joint effort,” she said. “Our students and staff are so great. They really help turn off lights when they leave the classroom [and] computers at the end of the day. Every hand helps.”
An experiment pays off: Time-of-Use Rate
Earlier this year, PEC Key Accounts Manager Dawn Southwell (who was featured in our Mother’s Day story) approached Dydalewicz with another opportunity to save money on the school system’s power bill: PEC’s newly introduced Time-of-Use (TOU) Rate option.
TOU divides the hours of the day (and the seasons of the year) into price brackets ranging from “Super Economy” (typically between 3-5 a.m., when energy is least in demand and therefore cheapest) to “Super Peak” (between 2-6 p.m., when summer energy demand is highest and most expensive). It’s not right for everyone, but members who are savvy about energy use — and are able to avoid the 2-6 p.m. Super Peak window — can see considerable savings.
Dydalewicz was intrigued.
“Anytime we can find a way to save dollars, we’re going to look at it,” she said. “We signed up to try it on one meter — the career tech building at the high school — and I watch it from month to month. So far, it’s going great. I think this is something we may expand.”
Residential TOU users find the most significant savings by shifting their energy use away from the hottest hours of the day — running dishwashers and washing machines in the morning or evening, turning up the thermostat when the house is empty during the day and so on.
Major energy-use shifts aren’t an option at the school, Dydalewicz said. Students’ comfort is top priority, and the classrooms are empty during the 3 a.m. “Super Economy” rate times. But even without any behavioral changes, she’s seeing savings: Over the last four months, the TOU Rate has saved more than $1,600 on that one meter alone.
“You also have to remember: School gets out at 4:15,” she said, which means the building is completely powered down for much of the “Super Peak” period. The career tech building is also smaller than other campus buildings, housing a welding shop, an auto tech shop and two classrooms — none of the energy-hungry computer or science labs found elsewhere on campus.
Currently, Dydalewicz is considering other buildings that could benefit from the rate. She cautions against using the rate for gyms — large buildings that get lots of after-school use during the “Super Peak” period — but, overall, feels the rate could be powerful for schools.
“I think each entity has to look at its specific needs and specific usage, because you do have to be careful when you’re signing up for TOU,” she said. “But I think it can be very beneficial. So far, for us, it’s working great.”
See if TOU could be right for you or your business.