It should come as little surprise that schools, which focus on making our children smarter, want the most intelligent products. They especially want products that will help them reach their sustainability goals. School districts across the country are investing in renewable energy, such as solar panels and wind farms.

Many school districts now have chief sustainability officers, said Michael Hoppe, product lead on Daikin Applied’s Intelligent Solutions. A person in this district position works with all the stakeholders — the school board, the employees, the students and their parents — to maintain sustainability. But these districts understand that sourcing is only half the story, and usage plays a key role. This makes HVAC a main focus, as it is responsible for two-thirds of a building’s energy consumption.

“They really want to know, with metrics and key performance indicators, how they’re trending,” Hoppe said. “Are they going to save the money they intended to save? The culture of these school districts is adapting to energy efficiency and recognizing the need for it.”



Schools are asking less for specific products and more for better outcomes and solutions, said James Burke, vice president and general manager for building automation systems at Johnson Controls Inc.

“Products and systems that affordably deliver comfortable, well lit, and safe learning environments for students, teachers, and administrators,” Burke said. “Schools are often facing insufficient funding, rising energy costs, and aging HVAC systems; they need new and smarter ways to do more with less.”

For larger schools with complex building management needs, building automation systems (BAS) start by providing intuitively-designed system navigation by clearly displaying the relationships between equipment and the spaces the equipment serves. An alarm management dashboard (which decreases alarm fatigue) and alarm escalation feature reduce the chance of a building operator missing a critical alarm.

Alarms are linked to easy-to-read dashboards of affected spaces or equipment to help operators find root causes. Additionally, dashboards, like Johnson Controls’ Metasys Potential Problem Areas, provide a timeline view of all occurrences that are “not normal,” like alarms, overrides, or devices/equipment appearing offline, Burke noted.

On the equipment side, rooftop units (RTUs) are an optimal solution for schools, since they offer a wide capacity range and are well suited when there is limited mechanical space in the building, Burke said. Many smart RTUs offer plug-and-play installation to get the system up and running faster.

Johnson Controls’ smart building control system, Verasys, was designed for light commercial buildings, like many schools, and to connect easily with RTUs. Through Verasys, facility managers can administer individual temperature control of rooms, access critical data in real time, and access extensive operating history. RTUs connected to Verasys can be outfitted with fault detection and diagnostics that monitor equipment continuously and detect when one or more critical parameters are outside specification. When this happens, facility managers are alerted in real time, reducing unplanned or emergency repairs by up to 66 percent, according to the company.



Software advancements like AI, machine learning, and predictive control are being applied to a wide variety of smart building use cases, Hoppe said. Smarter “edge” devices and better device networking topologies are providing better system resiliency. He’s also seeing what were once traditionally IT-type technologies appearing in BAS — like IP networks, Ethernet cabling, and onsite and remote VMs.

In addition to reduced downtime, energy efficiency is driving the demand for more HVAC controllers.

“Contractors are finding themselves in an interesting position,” Hoppe said. “Whereas they might not have done controls before, now they are either being asked to or being asked to partner with somebody to find a solution.”

All these devices speaking to each other creates the potential for security problems. Hoppe said customers and vendors today are very concerned about protecting data. In schools, student security has become an especially high priority. Hoppe said analytics providers need to ensure they have a secure platform where the data is encrypted. If they’re sending data to the cloud, it should be encrypted during transmission. The device itself should be secured. Logons and strong passwords are also recommended, as well as permissions; for example, techs can see information but cannot change it.

Burke said Johnson Controls takes cybersecurity very seriously, especially when it comes to cyber-secure products and solutions.

“Every day, we track, identify, and proactively address ever-evolving cybersecurity threats,” Burke said. “We’ve established a formal Product Security Incident Response process.”

One new cybersecurity feature in the latest Metasys release is a Cyber Health Dashboard, which informs Metasys system administrators of user account and system information like out-of-date software and user account policies that could be strengthened. The dashboard helps system users understand and address potential cyber security concerns.

Finally, there is one group that schools do want to have access to all the data being collected — the students. Schools increasingly are requesting monitors in the hallways that show how much energy the building is using. Daikin Applied provides specific information about the HVAC system to schools, which allows everyone in the building to understand how they can contribute to reducing energy consumption even more.

“We expect that to continue in the future,” Hoppe said.

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