Schools set to study energy usage with smart sensors

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Whitefish Schools is planning to take a high-tech approach to examining its energy usage and sustainability measures.

The Whitefish School Board on March 13 approved a three-year contract with Buddy Ohm, a mechanical monitoring service that is expected to provide real-time feedback on both energy usage and sustainability measures in the new Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship as well as Muldown Elementary and the Whitefish middle and high schools. There is no cost to the district for the service.

District Director of Curriculum Ryder Delaloye said the partnership will allow the district to better track and adhere to its sustainability goals.

“This is a mechanism by which we can get a read on the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship in terms of the energy use, resource consumption, temperature and so forth. And basically through these sensors, transform the facility into a smart building,” Delaloye said. “It’s a moment-by-moment responsive system.”

The Ohm is a set of building sensors and an accompanying dashboard that will provide building data on different energy measurements. Buddy, the parent company of the Ohm technology, also provides software enabling administrators and facility staff to examine and review the data collected by the sensors.

Buddy is based in Australia and has a U.S. office in Seattle.

Delaloye said when the district and Buddy first began exploring a partnership, Buddy was enthusiastic and eager to offer a discount to Whitefish Schools.

As the sustainability center gained more national attention and sustainability practices became a mainstay in the district’s future plans, the two decided on a service-for-service agreement at no cost to Whitefish schools.

Buddy will install its software in the district’s four buildings and offer their services, and in return the district will work with Buddy to develop promotional materials about Whitefish’s experience with the technologies.

The sustainability center will also be a host to conferences, seminars and other learning experiences for others interested in what the district and Buddy are doing.

Programming initiatives with students, including internships and work with FREEFLOW students, were mentioned as part of the agreement.

For Delaloye, the ability to monitor energy usage helps keep the schools on track with their goals and show how behavior change can create a more sustainable district.

“When we started to look at the scope of the contract, it seems like there’s a lot there. But what we realized is that’s an accountability measure for us to accomplish what our sustainability goals are,” he said. “It’s often difficult to change behavior. It’s because we can’t see how that behavior is occurring directly and immediately. This dashboard, these sensors can help adjust that.”

Trustee Marguerite Kaminski liked the proposal, but asked what happens if the partnership isn’t as ideal as it now seems and the district has to leave the contract.

“The only thing they have asked if we do break this contract amicably for any reason, is that we return the hardware,” Delaloye said.

As to the district’s obligations in the partnership, Superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt said most of the promotional videos and articles they’ll be creating would have been a part of the project anyway.

“We are really excited about this opportunity,” she said. “I don’t think there’s anything in here that we weren’t already going to do.”

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