Students Energize NJ Public Schools and Gain Valuable Experience

Posted on by Randall Solomon, Co-Director, Sustainable Jersey  

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How did you spend your summer? Well, Sustainable Jersey is pleased to report on three inspiring graduate students that, although they were located at the Jersey shore, did a whole lot more than work on their tans.

Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey

Randall Solomon, Sustainable Jersey

This summer, Sustainable Jersey for Schools provided seven school districts in Monmouth and Ocean counties with hands-on-help. Thanks to Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps fellowship program, we paired three specially trained fellows with school districts to provide expertise and support for evaluation, planning and implementation of projects that will help improve the energy performance in their buildings. This technical assistance program was made possible through funding from New Jersey Natural Gas.

Sustainable Jersey for Schools worked with three EDF Climate Corps fellows: Ame Igharo (Columbia University), Lindsey Walaski (Villanova University) and Danielle Salah (Presidio Graduate School). EDF Climate Corps is an eight-year-old program that provides both private and public organizations with help to find energy savings within their buildings and operations.

“This is our second successful year working with Sustainable Jersey,” Liz Delaney, program director for EDF Climate Corps said. “For graduate students, EDF Climate Corps is a launch pad for leadership in energy management. I’m proud of the work that our three fellows did with the schools and feel confident that these future energy leaders are accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy.”

Schools

Energy Data Collection to Recommendations for Energy Improvement

As a first step, the three students collected energy data to gain a baseline of how energy was being used in each school building and in the district overall. This data was used to identify opportunities for energy improvement, establish an energy management system to ensure that the staff was aware of energy consumption and to complete the Sustainable Jersey for Schools’ energy actions.

Lindsey, Ame and Danielle achieved a lot in just 10 weeks. A road map for expanding the recycling program was completed for the Matawan‐Aberdeen School District; an energy saving investment plan was proposed for Long Branch; an application for the Local Government Energy Audit (LGEA) was developed for Lavallette School District and the list continues.

For schools, focusing on energy use can seem like a big challenge. School administrators and facilities’ staff are often busy with other priorities and view energy efficiency projects as expensive and unimportant. The EDF students spent a lot of time presenting the business case for energy efficiency projects in order to convey the long term economic benefits as well as making the school administrators aware of the incentive programs offered by the New Jersey Clean Energy Program (NJCEP) to cover a portion of the capital costs.

Lindsey worked with the Shrewsbury Borough School District to track the school’s electricity and natural gas consumption and to begin the process of identifying energy efficiency initiatives.

“I helped the school district apply for a fully funded energy audit through NJCEP. This energy audit will provide the school with specific energy conservation measures to reduce operating costs and to enhance the reliability and efficiency of building operations,” she said. “I identified several potential projects for the school to reduce operational costs through lower energy consumption, including variable frequency drives and LED lighting replacements. NJCEP rebates covered 40 percent of the capital costs for these projects. These rebates allowed the school to tackle issues within their facilities and maintenance program and increase the sustainability of their operations.”

Four Lessons Learned

The fellows gained insights into existing barriers that prevent school districts from moving forward with energy efficiency projects. Here are a few of their observations:

  1. Schools Under-use the NJCEP Incentive Programs: School districts often lack the time, person-power and expertise to implement energy efficiency measures. But by taking advantage of the incentives offered by the New Jersey Clean Energy Program, schools can more easily complete sustainable projects and accumulate savings to be used in future projects.
  2. Key School Players (Facilities, Custodial and Accounting) Should Collaborate: Energy management in schools can benefit from successful communication between facilities, custodial and accounting teams to maximize cooperative energy tracking efforts. There should be a strong connection between the groups responsible for managing energy—those people that make sure that the buildings are shut down at the end of the day and the group responsible for paying for the energy. Through this connection, the schools will become more aware of the benefits of energy management systems–easier maintenance through increased controls, not needing to rely on manual overrides to control systems, and of course the financial savings that result from decreased energy consumption.
  3. Energy Programs in Schools Bring Curricular Opportunities: All seven school districts that participated in the program this summer were interested in engaging their students in their energy savings projects. Schools can act as a living laboratory to showcase their efforts and educate about energy efficiency. This can lead to higher engagement with students, staff and faculty.
  4. To Succeed, Engage the School Superintendent: Superintendent engagement will encourage staff and other stakeholders to support sustainable initiatives. High-level support for energy efficiency initiatives will have a positive ripple effect on the school community. Faculty, staff and students will be more aware and enthusiastic about participating in these initiatives.

This technical assistance program was made possible through funding from New Jersey Natural Gas.

“We’re proud to connect communities with the resources they need to make wise energy choices,” said Anne-Marie Peracchio, director of Conservation and Clean Energy Policy for New Jersey Natural Gas. “This unique opportunity helps the host school districts bridge the gap between available resources and energy-efficiency initiatives.” Sustainable Jersey believes that a focused shift toward energy efficiency and the adoption of renewables is necessary. This is one more initiative that will help us get closer toward this goal!


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