Energy management can be a primary focus for senior management within schools as they look to make cost savings. Reducing energy consumption is one way that schools can minimise their spend, whilst also reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the learning environment.
For school managers looking to improve their school’s energy efficiency, the first port of call is to identify where changes, both in culture and processes, need to be made. Here, we speak to Ceri Williams, a Schools Energy and Finance Officer at Torfaen County Borough Council with over 20 years of experience, about the best ways for schools to tackle their energy usage and carbon footprint.
Where to start when it comes to a school’s energy usage?
Energy spend will of course vary between schools but an easy way to find out your school’s energy spend per pupil is to divide your annual energy bill up by the number of pupils. The higher your cost per pupil, the more adjustments you will need to implement.
What is the first step to reducing energy consumption?
The best place to start is to identify sources of energy waste, whether that’s from old inefficient technologies, or down to behaviours such as leaving windows open when radiators are in use, or keeping lights on when they are not needed.
Replacing inefficient technologies with more efficient upgrades will not only be more effective performance-wise but will also help to bring down costs significantly. Conducting a site walk in collaboration with the site manager, who will be familiar with any day-to-day issues, can help to establish areas for improvement.
Many issues can be easily addressed by simply speaking with staff and pupils to encourage behavioural changes, or by implementing measures such as lighting sensors, which will ensure lights are only on when needed. Energy consumption can also be reduced by installing new smart energy control systems which allow for more precise control, giving schools the ability to quickly and easily adjust energy usage in real-time to meet their needs.
Should schools get students involved?
Getting students involved in any energy efficiency initiatives you are working on is important as it will not only help to educate them on important environmental issues but inspire them to play an active role in reducing their energy use.
Offering engaging and interactive workshops and presentations on climate change, to enable pupils to learn about energy savings, is a great start. Setting up eco-clubs to boost energy awareness and encourage discussions and learning around the subject is another good option. In particular, I’ve found that involving pupils in competitions, such as mini switch off walk arounds, and rewarding them for their energy saving efforts, is particularly effective.
Allow pupils to present evidence of the savings they have achieved for their school, either as individuals or in groups, during assemblies or lessons. This will keep them engaged in energy saving efforts and encourage them to feel pride in the role they have played. For example, as part of one of my projects with Torfaen County Borough Council, we held a ‘switch off fortnight’ campaign where students were urged to go around switching appliances off to save energy. Changes in usage were monitored through meter readings and pupils received certificates and bronze, silver, gold or platinum eco awards from staff. They loved demonstrating how they made a difference.
Which technologies should schools invest in?
Aside from replacing inefficient resources, investing in additional new energy efficient technologies should be at the forefront of any energy efficiency plans, helping to maximise financial and energy savings.
As lighting accounts for a significant proportion of electricity expended within schools, upgrading old, inefficient lights to more modern light emitting diode (LED) lighting alternatives is one of the most effective ways to reduce consumption. Installing lighting controls and adding motion sensors further reduces energy usage, while the longer lifespan of LEDs also decreases maintenance requirements and costs. As well as these benefits, new LED lighting can also improve the aesthetics of old buildings and enhance learning and teaching environments.
Elsewhere, simple steps such as adding insulation or heating controls, can substantially reduce energy usage and bills, with the potential for thousands of pounds a year to be saved through such investments.
Lastly, installing Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS), which act as a central point of control for multiple building services, can be really effective. Used to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) all in one, BEMS provide a way to monitor and rapidly adjust equipment, improving the reliability and performance of buildings and delivering substantial savings.
What about renewable options?
Renewables such as solar PV and heat pumps are great methods to help future proof buildings. As the cost of Solar PV has fallen, it’s a really good measure for schools looking to lower their carbon footprint and reduce their dependency on grid electricity. Solar PV installations are also a popular way to raise awareness of the sustainability agenda among students and the local community.
How many technologies should schools invest in?
This of course depends on what you are practically able to do but choosing to address energy efficiency holistically – that is, implementing multiple projects at the same time rather than investing in just one type of technology – is the most effective way of maximising energy, carbon and cost savings.
Many schools begin addressing their energy usage by installing LED lighting, however, a school taking a holistic approach would consider whether they could also install lighting sensors, energy management systems, new insulation, low-carbon heating and solar PV within the same project. As well as significantly boosting annual savings, such an approach also helps save money on design, installation and labour costs, while also minimising disruption on site.
How can schools fund energy efficiency projects?
The case for investing in energy efficiency in schools is obvious, but concerns over how to finance such investments may hold many back from doing so. However, funding options are still available to help schools invest in such technologies.
These include interest-free loans from Salix Finance – a government funded organisation which provides 100% interest free finance to the public sector to invest in energy efficient technologies. The loans are paid back over several years from the savings made on energy bills, meaning no capital outlay is needed. Funding is available for both large-scale and small-scale projects, covering over 100 technologies, including LED lighting, building energy management systems and renewables.
Over the last 10 years, funding from Salix has allowed me to implement a considerable amount of energy efficiency upgrade projects across the public sector, including over 45 projects spanning a range of technologies in schools, so I would encourage any schools to investigate the funding options available.