The Boulder Valley School District Goes Big on Energy Efficiency

<em>Photos: Boulder Valley School District</em>
Photos: Boulder Valley School District

The Boulder Valley School District is in the midst of a long and ambitious energy efficiency project. A key planning principle that has emerged is that the best results come from intense stakeholder cooperation during the planning stages.

The long road began in 2009 with the creation of the Sustainability Management System (SMS), which chartered the overall path. Four years later, the Sustainability Energy Plan (SEP) refined the SMS by defining long- and short-term goals, setting a timeframe and mapping out a strategy for the goals’ fulfillment.

Plans are nothing without funding, and that came through in 2014 when a bond of more than $500 million passed, according to Jeff Medwetz, the Project Manager of Energy Systems for the Colorado school district. The BVSD serves all or part of ten communities, including Boulder.

The results of the fix six projects from the first wave have been to improve energy efficiency in the school district by 52 percent. Energy use intensity (EUI) – which is defined as thousands of British thermal units (BTUs) used per square foot per year – will drop  on average from 80.4 to 37.8. The efforts will begin to pay off almost immediately: Utility savings will exceed $170,000 annually. Rebates from Xcel, the utility that serves the district, will be more than $300,000.

Longer term goals include a 20 percent EUI reduction by 2019 – as measured against the 2008 EUI baseline — and zero net energy (ZNE) capability by 2050.

The BVSD still is in the first phase of the project. It is a big one: Four buildings – three replacement schools and one new facility – are being built. A key is to fully enfranchising energy efficiency as a core in the planning was to bring all parties to the table during the planning stage, Medwetz told Energy Manager Today.

Communications is the most important single element. The typical approach is for plans to be handed off between stakeholders on a sequential basis. This isn’t optimal because shareholder priorities differ and decision made at an early stage may constrain options later. Instead, the BVSD’s approach is to create plans as a group. The decision makers included contractors, the school district and all the design disciplines. The goal is to ensure that the needs of each are organically included instead of being bolted on later.bvsd-broomfield-heights-ms-deep-energy-retrofit-chilled-beam-photo-credit-bvsd

For example, the work of the structural engineer, the architect and the mechanical engineer are impacted by decisions that are made on the building envelope. Working together, Medwetz said, they may come up with a plan that meets all their needs, while working alone may lead to less holistic results. “The architect [for instance] designing in a vacuum may think, ‘Oh well, they will just make it work.’ ”

The district also brought in third party experts to model results for the new buildings. Their task was to provide feedback on how the iterative planning was progressing towards the ambitious energy efficiency goals, Medwetz said.

The complex, long-term project broke down into three groups, Medwetz said. The first is the new buildings. These have EUI goals of 25, which means they are ZNE capable. Actually reaching that level will happen when renewable energy resources are added.

The second group are “deep energy retrofits” – Medwetz credited the Rocky Mountain Institute with coining the term – that can lead to energy use reductions of 50 percent. This may involve changing the building envelope and other profound changes, including replacement of nearly all of the building’s mechanical systems. The third group is renovating spaces in a less fundamental way. Those projects aim to reduce energy use by 20 percent, Medwetz said.

The long project is progressing nicely, Medwetz said. The new schools will open next fall and some of the recommissioning is done. One of the deep retrofits is complete and is the verification and measurement stage. Other elements of the overall project, he said, still are in the design phase.

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