DOE Shares Data on its Thermal Comfort Site Shedding Insight on School Climates and Saving Money

Office of Facilities uses data-driven cooling strategy

Outdoor weather station Photo: Hawaii Department of Education

Weather station sites were selected based on locations where microclimates such as urban development and geography may impact on the overall temperature. Photo: Hawaii Department of Education


When soaring temperatures threatened the effectiveness of learning environments across the state, the Hawaii Department of Education’s (DOE) budgetary commitment to cool Hawaii’s schools was a welcomed reprieve from the sweltering heat.

While air conditioners were the top-of-mind solution for the general public, nuances like budgetary constraints, aging infrastructure and an annual electricity bill of nearly $47 million in 2017 presented challenges. The DOE’s Office of Facilities and Support Services (OFSS) knew it had some homework to do to keep temperatures comfortable without incurring a hefty uptick in DOE’s net energy load.

DOE Utilities Budget | Photo: Hawaii Department of Education

Electricity makes up the bulk of DOE’s utility budget. Click on the photo to enlarge the picture. Photo: Hawaii Department of Education

According to DOE’s website, “Air conditioning isn’t always the best option — many aging school facilities do not have the capacity to support it, nor can the state afford to install and run AC at all DOE schools statewide. The Department’s facilities team analyzes each school and determines an approach that makes the most sense weighing all factors.”

Working in collaboration with the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute and MKThink, a sustainable architectural design company, OFSS used aggregate data points from each school to guide their heat abatement strategies.

As part of its Heat Abatement Program, DOE installed solar powered outdoor weather stations as well as 62 indoor monitors to track temperatures and environmental data in classrooms statewide in 2017.

This year, HIDOE launched its findings from both indoor and outdoor weather stations on the DOE Thermal Comfort website. The site publishes data from schools across the state every thirty minutes.

“The public now has the opportunity to view the environmental conditions we monitor when determining the best cooling method for a classroom,” said Dann Carlson, OFSS assistant superintendent.

The department applies both active and passive energy efficient solutions to reduce heat using a smaller carbon footprint. DOE utilized photovoltaic panels as well as battery storage technology to encourage net-zero power usage for its air-conditioned facilities. Meanwhile, passive strategies include a reduction in the amount of sun-exposed asphalt, which has been known to retain up to 95 percent of heat by installing shade structures, and application of reflective roof coating on portables as well as utilizing ceiling and duct ventilation to push residual heat out of classrooms.

Click to enlarge the photo. Photo: DOE Thermal Comfort Portal


To date, the $100 million appropriated by the Hawaii State Legislature in its capital improvement projects budget has been implemented to cool nearly 1,300 classrooms with the department’s continuing efforts to prioritize schools that need it most.

See which schools are on the current priority list at

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