Smart buildings for smarter schools

As schools reopen after Covid-19 lockdown and welcome children back, there is an increasing scrutiny of return-to-learn plans by governments, institutes and universities – and an incredible media hype as these organisations are over-communicating their strategies and tactics.

Not surprisingly, most post-pandemic guidelines (see the ones by UK Department for Education, or the Italian Ministry of Education) deal with protective measures in every aspect of school operations, and contingency plans for possible virus outbreaks.

But there is another side of the story. This is probably the first time in history when we see digital technologies stepping into schools. Don’t think of remote learning or virtual classes only. In many countries Covid-19 is accelerating investments in buildings and infrastructures, leveraging smart technologies to make schools more efficient and sustainable, while improving health and safety for students, teachers and staff members.

Schools have started their journey to become smart buildings, thus having intelligent, connected systems to monitor and control key applications such as lighting, heating and cooling, video surveillance, WiFi access, and more. The background for this is made of reliable field sensors and actuators, smart IoT devices to collect data and send commands, a central software management platform, and a robust network to ensure adequate connectivity among all solution components.

What can smart schools do if turned into smart buildings? In a pandemic-resilient perspective, an IoT-based application could support sanitation efforts, making it easier for staff to monitor advanced cleaning systems (UV-C lighting, air purifiers, etc.) and automate part of the disinfection process by triggering specific actions upon measured conditions in classrooms or school spaces.

Smart buildings are also a great opportunity to improve schools’ sustainability performance. The enCOMPASS project demonstrated that primary schools can save about 20% of power by combining smart technologies and children-friendly education tools. Supported by 14 European partners, including Paradox Engineering, the project led to the development of a smart platform and some digital tools to allow end users monitor power consumption at home, at school or in the office, taking advantage of customized suggestions to save energy while retaining personal comfort levels.

Two-year pilot projects were conducted in Gambarogno (Switzerland), Hassfurt (Germany) and Salonicco (Greece), and demonstrated the effectiveness of the enCOMPASS approach, particularly when energy consumption or user motivation is high, as it happened in schools. Average energy saving in schools was around 16%, and Wunsidel primary school in Germany succeeded in cutting power consumption for 20.1%.

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