Highland Park schools slash energy costs
North Shore District 112 energy specialist Gianni Perrelli looks over the boiler control panel at Red Oak School in HIghland Park. Through tight controls, the district has cut its energy costs by 36 percent. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 11, 2013 8:16AM
HIGHLAND PARK — School districts can’t control every revenue and expense item in their multi-million-dollar budgets.
But North Shore District 112 has been able to cut its energy bills by 36 percent through meticulous monitoring of usage and tight controls on room temperature when schools are not in use.
The district has saved $770,000 in energy costs over the past 2 1/2 years apart from savings tied to mild winters, since differences related to weather already are built into the analysis.
Two years ago, North Shore District 112 in Highland Park enrolled in an energy-control program from the consulting firm of Energy Education, which recently changed its name to Cenergistics. The district’s electrician, Gianni Perrelli, went through training in the firm’s system and software, and now also serves as the district’s energy education specialist.
“If I just look at the last 12 months, we are well over 40 percent savings. We are killing it right now,” said Perrelli, examining the gold mine of data at his fingertips, down to the real-time room temperatures and thermostat settings in hundreds of classrooms and other spaces throughout the district’s 13 buildings.
Most of the savings have come from lowering the thermostat settings down to 55 degrees when schools and large auditorium spaces are not in use. “Schools usually run at 72 degrees and keep the temperature at 72 degrees, kind of like your house, even though they are not in use,” he said.
When the school day ends at 3:30 or 4 p.m., the temperature settings drop to 55 degrees, meaning the heat effectively shuts down in the buildings. That doesn’t mean teachers or students who are still in the school building are suddenly shivering.
“It is just coasting,” said Perrelli. “It takes hours and hours to reach that level, if it does at all.”
However, by allowing the temperature to coast down to the lower temperature and stay there until about 4 or 5 a.m. the following morning, he’s saving 14 hours of heat. Thanks to the data at hand, Perrelli knows exactly what time to raise the temperature in each area of each school building in order to reach 72 degrees by the start of the school day. An individual teacher can adjust the temperature, but only between 68 and 74 degrees.
On weekends and during winter and spring breaks, the school buildings can go even longer without any heat.
Exceptions are made if, say, an outside organization is renting a school gymnasium on a Saturday.
“I’ll make sure that just the gym has heat and nothing else,” he said.
When it comes to energy usage, Perrelli is the teacher and teachers become his students.
“They needed to change their whole mentality,” he said. “They needed to accept the fact that if they were in the building in the evening, it would be cooler,” he said. “A teacher still has the capacity to come in on a Sunday, but it is going to be 55 degrees in the building. So they wear a sweater or do whatever they need to do.”
He’s also taught staff to turn off the classroom lights, even for the five minutes it may take to escort pupils to the gymnasium. He’ll also remind teachers to shut down their computers entirely before long breaks.