Energy Manager's Update - 3/2019

Posted by Kim Melander on 3/14/2019

Updating everyone on what we have been working on over the past 8-10 months and where we are heading! We have been very busy.


It's been a bit of a "perfect storm" for us regarding the software and data systems we rely on. There are 3 major systems we use to perform our jobs every day.

  1. District Wide Building Automation Systems (BAS).
  2. District Utility Bill Accounting Software.
  3. District Event Scheduling Software Integration to the Building Automation System.

We have been planning to upgrade these systems for several years due to obsolescence. Unfortunately, unexpected events (system failures) forced us to begin these upgrades immediately and simultaneously. To upgrade each system on it's own is a major undertaking. To perform them all at the same time is monumental! Each system is covered in greater detail below.

 District Wide Building Automation System:

This is the collection of microprocessor components that monitor and control the mechanical and electrical equipment in our buildings. It is interconnected from building to building through our District Ethernet network. In each building there are several dedicated networks that connect each controller together. There are roughly 2,500 building controllers networked together across our school district. These controllers run on operating systems just like any computer does. If you think about Microsoft and their Windows product evolution, you will understand why upgrading the BAS operating systems is necessary. As new systems are continuously brought on-line, old systems begin to fall behind and eventually become incompatible. The lifecycle for these systems works out to be about 10 years. The majority our existing systems were installed around 2009. The planned upgrade of this system consists of new hardware and software for approximately 50 network controllers which tie the building controllers together and perform higher level processing and communication functions. This upgrade process is especially challenging since we must complete this work without impacting the operations of our schools. We started this process in 1/2018 and are targeting 1/2020 for completion.

 District Utility Bill Accounting Software:

Rock Hill Schools has about 130 utility accounts and about 570 utility meters. We need to monitor, reconcile, record, analyze and report every utility meter in detail. The only way to do this efficiently is by using a software database specifically created and tailored for this purpose. One of the critical tasks that this software as a service (SaaS) performs, is capturing all of the data on the utility bills accurately, each month. In the fall of 2018, our system stopped working. The SaaS provider had released a new version with vastly improved features and reliability. Much of the work that needed to be done to correct the problem with the old system, would need to be duplicated when we moved to the new system, which we were planning to do at a later time. The timeframe to complete the fix of the old system was the same timeframe expected to complete the upgrade to the new system. Our provider offered some cost reductions to upgrade which made the decision easy to justify. Unfortunately, being without the service for about 6 months was not easy. It was impossible to provide our District energy reporting without this data. Fortunately, the upgrade is nearly complete and most of the data we need has been restored. We performed an audit and found about 20 meters that were missing, many from new accounts resulting from new construction. We are working with our provider now to resolve these meters. This is just in time since our next scheduled report to the School Board is in April. 

 District Event Scheduling Software Integration to Building Automation System:

Our District Building Automation System is a critical component to our Energy Conservation Program. Approximately 75% of the energy we consume is used by our HVAC and lighting systems. By efficiently controlling the operation of these systems, we are able to capture maximum savings. A big part of this is running HVAC systems and energizing lights only when they are needed, and only in the areas they are needed. Because we are a large school District and our buildings are utilized on irregular schedules, we utilize a scheduling software (SaaS) tool that provides an efficient schedule entry method and automatically schedules the HVAC and lighting systems to operate. In order for this to work, the scheduling system must communicate directly with the Building Automation System. This is done through integration. Rock Hill Schools has been using and developing this method of operation for more than 10 years and the software service has gone through several major revisions along the way. Because of changes in our building automation systems from maintenance, upgrades, expansions, building changes and data security, we were beginning to notice decreased reliability in our scheduling. Specifically, schedules were not being transferred from the scheduling software to the building automation system. This was causing unacceptable levels of negative customer impact in terms of building occupants without HVAC and/or lights. Most of these failures were occurring during nights, weekends and holidays which compounds the problem because it is more difficult to get the problem resolved quickly. Because we were planning to upgrade our building automation systems, our scheduling software was outdated, and our integration (scheduling) platform needed an overhaul, we decided to upgrade this system along with our building automation system upgrade. This is ongoing and is expected to be complete in 1/2020 along with the BAS upgrade project.