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Hamilton public schools to tap the sun to cut energy bills

‘Daylight harvesting’ hailed as way to meet 12 per cent reduction target

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board is planning to tap Mother Nature to cut energy bills.

Senior facilities officer Daniel Del Bianco said a new initiative will include “daylight harvesting,” which uses automated systems to allow schools to reduce the need for overhead lights and heat in classrooms when they face the sun.

The goal is to lower overall consumption by 12 per cent over the next five years, representing savings of more than $1 million per year at today’s energy prices, he told trustees in a presentation on the board’s long-term facilities master plan.

The savings will be used to address other repair needs at the board’s schools, which are an average of 52 years old.

“From a desk you can monitor energy usage per classroom in a building and adjust that usage any time, live time, so if you notice that the lights are on in a room that shouldn’t be on, you can turn them off,” Del Bianco said.

“If you notice that because the room faces the sun a certain time of day, you can remotely turn down the temperature in that one classroom,” he said.

“The classrooms that are facing the sun during the day, you probably don’t need the entire bank of lights on throughout the teaching day.”

Del Bianco said the board’s energy usage per kilowatt hour is presently 19.27, compared to a provincial average of 17.5.

To try to get below the Ontario benchmark, he said schools will also switch to LED lighting and better coordinate rentals to outside groups on weekends and during the summer.

“As opposed to having five different renters at five different schools, you put five renters all at one facility,” he said. “You try to consolidate wherever you can. That way the buildings that are empty, you can shut down power consumption.”

While trustees praised the effort, west Mountain representative Wes Hicks cautioned staff to be “extremely careful” about consolidating rentals at select schools.

“I hope that we’re not putting guidelines that would restrict community use of our schools,” he said. “That doesn’t support people who are renting it because they need a different size gym, they need some classrooms for scouts and those types of things.”

Del Bianco promised any changes will seek solutions that work for both sides.

“We’ll just work with them to ensure they get what they need and we still have the ability to plan accordingly,” he said.

Other initiatives will include a pilot project to introduce a “dashboard” at three schools – likely two elementary and one secondary – to allow them to monitor their electricity, water and natural gas consumption, as well as carbon footprint.

Del Bianco said a similar venture at the Upper Grand District School Board led schools to compete to reduce their energy usage.

“You’re able to see other schools, where you rank, what you did last year, what you did this year,” he said. “By educating their school communities and being able to track the actual change, you’ve started the snowball rolling. You get the schools to buy into it.”

Del Bianco said the board has also applied for grants from the Ontario Power Authority to install solar panels at more than 20 schools, but the five-year energy reduction plan isn’t contingent on them.

“The plan would include what we have complete control over,” he said. “Anything that we receive as part of external funding initiatives, in my mind, is a bonus.”

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