Monitoring Air Quality is key to reopening schools safely

Monitoring Air Quality is key to reopening schools safely

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The Risks of Reopening

Children/Students are the future of the society. For all-round growth of our children, “We need to reopen schools” and provide face-to-face classes and group activities.

With the surge of cases, and the fear of infection, schools are very reluctant to reopen. The lack of funding, reduced revenue in private & higher education institutions, have complicated the problem. 

The need is to ensure that we can reopen and operate safely, mitigate infection risk with innovative air-quality monitoring and comfort management.

How do we do it cost-effectively?

National and Global debates are on-going about what is the best way to reopen. Many different models are being explored: Alternate day schooling, “Double Sessionswith different groups coming in morning or evening2-3 days a week and many more variations of these. 

Of course a 100% remote option seems like a safe bet temporarily, but face-to-face education cannot be postponed for too long. There are many variables that need considering, such as ensuring safety among multiple spaces, maintaining our caution and controlling the spread of the infection.

Irrespective of the model of face-to-face, the real need is to ensure that school and classroom spaces are kept clean and monitored for safety.
CDC, ASHRAE, EPA and various research studies over recent years have set the standards. But how are we supposed to implement them? Where does the data come from? Is it ongoing?
CDC, ASHRAE, EPA and various research studies over recent years have set the standards. But how are we supposed to implement them? Where does the data come from? Is it ongoing?

Guidance from Experts

The CDC Guidance for Schools discusses all options and the associated risks, with possible mitigation strategies. Another very important guidance is from Ashrae Epidemic Task Force – Schools & Universities in their 17-Jul-2020 update

The key is how do we implement, and more importantly, how do we measure the extent of safety? 

We require Social Distancing, Personal Hygiene, Clean Environment, Change in Group Behavior and Human Interactions and Indoor Air Quality / Air Cleaning. Many competing needs, and some of them require a large capital deployment to bring about major changes – particularly monitoring Air Quality and Comfort.

Air Quality is Key. Humidity plays a big role.

Indoor air pollution is a very important health focus, and an EPA AirQuality Introduction to Health Professionals outlines the various sources of infection and health impact. COVID-19 has exacerbated this problem never like before, and is demanding a clear strategy to address this all across. EPA has given specific guidance “Indoor Air and Coronavirus (COVID-19)on measures needed to contain.

In addition to all the polluting agents and infectious organisms, as a 2018 study on Influenza has shown, Relative Humidity is a very important factor in managing infections. An article shows what are the impacts of high and low humidity in closed spaces.

Expensive Changes. What is important? Where do we focus?

All these guidances suggest sweeping changes to the systems, processes and human behavior. Change in humans is more a change of our habits – discipline.

While we practice all the social distancing, personal hygiene, and improve our day-to-day processes, the need is to create a clean surrounding and indoor so that the chance of spread of infections is kept low.

The need is to implement a multi-faceted solution, potentially involving: 

1.      Improving our HVAC systems

2.     Adding humidifiers/dehumidifiers 

3.     Adding UVGI and other air-purification systems

4.    Optimize use of external clean air, and external cooling / heating to spend less energy.

These are all expensive steps and the need is to find where to spend the next available dollar to gain maximum impact. 

Another sweeping guidance is to let more external air for ventilation. However, this will increase the cost of energy for conditioning / comfort. This increases, not just a one-time cost, but also the recurring costs of operation. Add to this the cost of maintenance – the schools are going to be strained with the ever-dwindling budgets, and these ever-increasing demands.

Need for a Data-Driven System: Not just one time. But On-Going.

Most people spend on just a one-time study with a one-time improvement of systems, but that’s not what we need.

The key is to implement a smart solution that oversees all the competing aspects, and implements a continuous optimal condition, keeping all these complexities hidden behind a smart piece of technology. The key is to have a data-driven system.

The solution is to Setup an Adaptive Control System which monitors all across and optimizes the complex problem:

1.      Improve Indoor Air Quality & Health (air purity and flow: RH, CO2, Volatile Organic Compounds [VOCs], Particulate Matter [PM2.5])

2.     Maximize Comfort (temperature and humidity)

3.     Reduce Energy usage (HVAC-R and air-purification systems)

4.    Help Comply with the standard building codes (city, state, national and global) and reduce global warming

A Perfect Solution. Produce Best Value. Long term.

One would think that a good solution will bring about health and comfort along with savings on energy. But that’s far from it.

The Challenge of Energy Savings: Cost of energy is a significant operating cost. More importantly, the increasingly strict mandate is to reduce the carbon footprint. However, energy savings are not enough to justify investments.

Need more savings: It is important to find more savings, and interestingly, there are other on-going operational costs that are much higher than energy costs. A very popular view of operational expenses points out that Energy, Admin & People costs are in the ratio 1:10:100. Reduction in admin / operation / maintenance costs will produce significant savings.

Reduce Infection Chances and Reduce Costs: Imagine, instead of having the mechanical maintenance staff to regularly come into the premises everyday, if they can remotely view/monitor and manage the HVAC and other air quality systems. This will reduce the number of people that need to come to the premises everyday, requiring them to come only when there are actual issues that require touch. This will also reduce the costs of visits/travel. In some customer deployments, this has produced more than 12% savings on maintenance costs annually.

Proactive Maintenance and Further Savings: In addition, the continuous monitoring allows proactive maintenance to be done, reducing downtimes, and more importantly the time spent on complaint and follow-up calls to get help. This removes employee/staff/student time wastage due to infrastructure failures, will greatly increase productivity along with health and comfort.

A perfect solution would save energy, maintenance costs, reduce the annual capital replacement costs and at the same time improve the health and safety. Such a solution will be a very valuable addition at this crucial juncture with COVID-19 challenging all businesses.

EM.Connect – Solution Overview

We have put together a perfect solution to balance Air Quality, Health, Comfort, Energy, Maintenance and all things savings.

It is a cloud Software-as-a-Service that brings sophisticated building management at affordable prices and less complexity. It provides a central portal for easily integrating all existing equipment along with additional IoT sensors. The web tools for remote management, and a mobile app help synchronize all stake holders for maximum efficiency, health and cost savings.

The key features include the following:

1.      Operate Smart intelligent devices coupled with air quality sensors, occupancy sensors

2.     Optimizes the balance between the fresh air drawn in, energy used, and comfort

3.     Create context to real-time device data adding place, people and business information

4.    Perform trend and pattern analysis to find optimization / improvement opportunities

5.     Provide alarms, reports and triggers to continuously improve the operations and increase savings

6.    Provide a central portal for all building portfolio, and tools for remote management

7.    Mobile app for remote monitoring, control and coordination

EM.Connect is a high-tech service to reopen with increased health, comfort and safety, while significantly reducing energy, operational, maintenance and capital expenses. We have saved over 15% of energy, 10% of maintenance and significant capital replacement costs to help customers become more profitable and efficient.

By using energy metrics' EM Core platform, connect any IOT device or entire BMS/BAS system. The platform establishes a two way communication between the devices and server, collecting data and providing insights on energy usage and savings, equipment performance, maintenance and allows sophisticated control of the equipment through remote management. All the insights can be viewed on the EM Connect web dashboard or mobile app or even can be integrated in to third party applications.
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