Buildings would run better with this curriculum (and its graduates) in place.

With energy conservation expertise in high demand these days, it reminded me that I had written a column titled “BAS Help? Grow Your Own” back in February 2005 because I thought at that time (and still do) that the technical high school environment would be the ideal place to implement an energy technician curriculum.

Why the tech school vs. other high schools? Well, most high school courses are focused on students getting prepared to go on to college. Technical schools prepare their students to go out and get jobs after graduation, as well as to prepare others to continue to college (e.g., 65% of technical high school students go on to college or post-grad technical schools). It’s these high school graduate practitioners who become the next electricians, plumbers, cooks, et al.

So what does going to a technical high school do for energy conservation and being a skilled technician in energy management? Most facilities these days have BAS to operate their facilities. These BAS computers have tremendous energy management power, but based on my experience, these computers sit in a room operating on cruise control. There are probably a hundred reasons for why BAS are not utilized to their capabilities, but are these valid reasons not to be proactive with the computer’s energy management features?

Training For The Future

I compare this dilemma analogous to someone getting behind the wheel of a car and heading off for a long journey. Once on the highway, the driver puts the car into cruise control and begins to listen to music, talk with the passengers, have a coffee and donut, and focus his attention on things other than operating the car efficiently (and safely). He also misses an exit or two along the way.

Staying with this analogy, I’m going to replace the driver with a trained operator whose focus is solely on driving the vehicle to the destination as efficiently as possible so that the ride will be timely and efficient for the occupants, and efficient relative to energy consumption and gas-dollars saved.

Going back to the facility with the BAS computer, if the building owner hired a tech school trained graduate at a reasonable salary, I can pretty much assure you the return on investment (ROI) for this energy technician will be less than one year for facilities over 100,000 sq ft. The added benefit of having a dedicated person to operate the BAS computer is that he will be knowledgeable enough to perform PM of the BAS devices and make repairs and/or replacement of these components, no outside service contracts required.

Why a tech school student rather than a college graduate engineer? The college graduate engineer is going to be looking to recover the cost of their next four-year bachelor of science in mechanical engineering degree.

For the high school energy technician, the first four years after graduation will be a “paid” education (money coming in rather than going out) for her rather than paying for more education. This can be a great opportunity for the tech student looking to go to work right after high school. An added benefit for the energy technician will be the potential to further her education with company-sponsored evening class educational incentives and the potential for getting a college degree with some of the cost being paid by her employer as an incentive to improve energy engineering skills.

A Modest Course Offering

So, what will be in an energy technician curriculum? I’m not a trained educator, so I’m sure there will be communication skills including English, writing, and public speaking. There will need to be math and computer skills, too, but the foundation of the energy technician education course will be: understanding automatic temperature control sequences of operation, occupancy scheduling of specific rooms as well as scheduling of systems, setpoints adjustment based on time of day and time of year, lighting controls as well as ventilation controls, plumbing system controls relative to temperatures and flows, infrared scanning of equipment, panels, distribution, and building envelope, troubleshooting problematic systems, maintenance and repair of control devices, and understanding utility bills, cost of energy, and energy reporting.

What are the chances of colleges, universities, industry, health care, and government sites hiring energy technicians? From what I hear, these institutions are clamoring to reduce their operating cost and carbon footprint, improve space comfort, and improve the environment around them. If you own, operate, or maintain a building(s), would you hire an energy technician with the potential for a one-year ROI? You tell me! Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? E-mail me at hmckew@rdkengineers.com and share your thoughts on this topic, and I will pass your comments on to a technical high school considering this energy engineering technician curriculum. ES