Incentives Cut Energy Use at Chicago Public Schools

EDF Climate Corps fellow | August 13, 2012

Fellow: Tyler Browne, 2012 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at Chicago Public Schools, MPA/MSES candidate at Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs

Organization: Chicago Public Schools (CPS)

The Opportunity: 675 schools in the third largest school district in the country

Summary: Chicago Public Schools recognizes the financial, environmental  and infrastructural  benefits of curtailing energy consumption. That's why it's working aggressively to implement the Energy Shared Savings program  at its nearly 700 schools.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) manages its utility expenses through a central office. This is organizationally efficient, but it enables the central office to keep in the central budget any money individual schools save through energy efficiency. The Energy Shared Savings (ESS) [PDF] program eliminates that barrier to efficiency and provides a financial incentive for schools to keep their energy use low.

The ESS program financially rewards Chicago schools that measurably curtail their energy consumption. Participating schools can earn up to $10,000 for saving energy – 4 cents per kilowatt-hour of electricity and 10 cents per therm of natural gas saved. To earn cash back, they must reduce consumption 5 percent or more from a 3-year weatherized baseline.

About 141 schools participated in fiscal year 2012 – just a fifth of CPS schools – yet ESS net savings topped $500,000. This year ESS hopes to double its impact, expanding to over 300 schools with a focus on its most energy-intensive facilities.

My task as a fellow was to put together tools that will build ESS participation. I organized program data to observe trends, identifying the largest energy consumers for targeted outreach. I also simplified our outreach materials. For example, an improved “Smart Power Planning” section makes it easier for administrators to create effective energy-use reduction plans and to register for ESS.

I also recommended that ESS make a change in ground-level organizational structure and create "Energy Management Teams." These teams bring together administrators, teachers, facility managers, building engineers and students to improve the performance of computers, as well as electronics, lighting and thermal controls, three areas that, combined, account for 75 percent of a typical commercial building’s energy consumption. Formerly uncoordinated energy-savers can now benefit from the oversight and aid of the nearest Energy Management Team member.

These tools – improved data management, outreach materials and organizational structure – will enable administrators to win over energy-intense schools more effectively, register interested schools more easily and reduce energy consumption at participating district schools more efficiently. I'm glad to have had the opportunity to contribute.

EDF Climate Corps places specially trained MBA and MPA students in companies, cities and universities to develop practical, actionable energy efficiency plans. Sign up to receive emails about EDF Climate Corps, including regular blog posts by our fellows. You can also visit our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter to get regular updates about this project.