In the current climate schools must be more environmentally and economically savvy. When it comes to energy a sustainable option is often the best long-term option. Education Executive catches up with energy experts to discuss sustainable energy management and consider the renewable technologies that could revolutionise your school
There are certain characteristics that school business leaders share – for example, deep-set resilience, exceptional resourcefulness, a penchant for doing more with less… and an acute awareness of their school’s finite resources. While reading a blog by WorkingSBM (Don’t pigeon-hole me) the following sentence resonated; ‘In such tight and uncertain times in education, the value of all our resources is greatly enhanced and I find myself resenting any kind of waste.’ The author went on to discuss the lesser known efficiency-rituals carried out by those who understand that resources run out, that they cost, that they are assets not to be wasted; these included switching off lights and computer screens and putting the caps back on glue sticks so that they don’t dry out (or attract unwanted pests which, apparently, like to eat them!)
So, what constitutes waste? Can it be eliminated by sustainability? We take an energy-specific perspective and share some practical advice to ensure you’re as cost-efficient as you are energy-efficient.
A school with an energy management plan
Being an environmentally conscious school isn’t just about saving the human race from a very real danger – climate change – it’s also about realising savings on your energy costs. “Figures from the Department for Education show that schools spend an average of £27k per year on energy, with some of the larger schools paying up to £80k,” Shea Karssing, a writer at Smarter Business, tells us, adding that there are savings to be made by schools and academies. Essential to this is understanding school-wide energy usage – for instance Shea notes that lighting comprises almost 50% of all the electricity used in schools – and using this to inform your decisions when selecting a provider.
As with all aspects of school business management, the path to efficiency – and reduced energy consumption and carbon footprint – is best realised with a plan. This, Claire Banham Godfrey, programme co-ordinator for schools and academies at Salix, says is made up of three main stages. The first is identifying behavioural changes that can be made to ensure energy is used sensibly, reducing energy usage and waste. Shea agrees that schools need to look inward at their own behaviours when it comes to reducing energy, referring us to a government report which found that more than 20% of energy consumed goes to waste and that schools could reduce energy bills by 10% through simple good housekeeping alone!
Taking a holistic approach: embedding good practices
The second stage focuses on installing energy efficient technologies, suggesting a ‘holistic approach’. “A holistic approach to energy efficiency involves the installation of a wide range of efficient technologies, as well as the adoption of behavioural changes to streamline usage,” Claire says, adding that both are elements which SBLs should consider in order to maximise the potential for energy, carbon and cost savings. For example, as in WorkingSBM’s blog, if lights are being left on, speaking with staff and students will be an obvious strategy, while the addition of lighting sensors can further help to reduce unnecessary lighting use.
Claire suggests assessing your school’s energy use over different periods of time as this can highlight areas for improvement. “Taking readings first thing in the morning, and when the school closes, will provide an idea of how much energy is used during the normal school day and overnight. If overnight readings are high, changes clearly need to be made,” Claire tells us. If you have access to historical data it’s worth looking at seasonal variations, too. “Such assessments can help identify which technologies would benefit from upgrades and where measures such as timers or sensors would be beneficial,” she explains. If schools are to be successful in this Claire stresses that they need to look ahead, as well as making immediate changes. “Identifying technologies – for example wind turbines, solar panels, or biomass boilers – which will have the best long-term benefits, as opposed to focusing only on quick-wins – as well as continually raising awareness of energy efficiency amongst staff and students – is key,” Claire says.
More than 20% of energy consumed goes to waste and that schools could reduce energy bills by 10% through simple good housekeeping alone!
Investing in the future
The third and final stage, according to Claire, is to install renewable generation technologies, which further help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the lowest possible level. However, before exploring such technologies, Claire says that reducing energy consumption to the lowest possible level through behavioural change, and opting for energy efficient technology, should be your priority as this will help to keep the costs of any future renewable projects down. This is important because renewable technologies can require a substantial upfront investment – expensive to buy, install and maintain – but, ultimately, they can deliver long-term efficiencies which outweigh these associated costs. “On average, a business that adopts a strategic plan, like the one we offer, can save up to 20% in terms of their energy usage,” Jon Cowan, chief marketing officer at Utilitywise, says. When asked what benefits a school might see, he says that this depends on the solution installed. “If a school opts for a solar PV panel they might see the return on what they’ve paid within three or four years; however, if you’re buying LED lighting, the return could be realised tomorrow.”
If you choose to take the renewable route you will need to be able to demonstrate whether it’s viable or not. Jon suggests conducting a professional survey to analyse usage; a 360° report is then created outlining where to invest time and effort and making clear the costs involved. Some LAs will conduct a survey of the school, Claire adds; alternatively, there are energy companies out there which offer full-site surveys and will be well-equipped to advise you on how to reduce energy spend to the lowest possible level by looking at behavioural change and technologies that could be installed. Proficient in procurement, you’ll know that ‘cheapest’ doesn’t always equate to ‘best’ and that every school is different. “The size of your school building and the use of the buildings – for example, if you let your facilities outside school hours – will shape your needs and impact your energy usage,” Jon explains.
Green incentives: finding the funds
Investing in any technology costs and, for schools that are already financially stretched, this can present an obstacle. But, fear not, there are a number of potential funding streams for you to consider. Claire suggests checking with your LA to see what they recommend, as some offer grants and/or loans for renewables and other technologies. There are also several charities – some represented by the Sustainable Schools Alliance, for example – which offer schools support and advice. Another solution to securing the capital required is to see what different providers can do for you – some companies might provide capital for a project in the form of an interest free loan that is paid back using the energy savings following the project, Claire says – an offer that outlines the savings to be made.
There are also various government incentives available to schools to offset the capital costs of installation. For example, it’s worth looking at the feed-in-tariff (FiT); these are energy contracts where an energy supplier pays you to generate your own electricity using renewable technologies.
If it’s a green path you choose to take – whether for cost or environmental reasons – ensure that you invest sensibly now so that you can reap the benefits later. When it comes to the environment every little thing matters – a mantra that we need to broadcast in classrooms, throughout the school culture and through our management decisions.
Claire shares some eco-tips for schools
Develop a campus-wide culture of energy saving
Establishing environmental awareness clubs, providing training to identify energy saving opportunities and running ‘switch off’ campaigns to ensure equipment is off when not in use, are all effective ways of encouraging individuals to take ownership of, and pride in, energy management. This, in turn, will motivate them to sustain initiatives and look out for new ways to improve efficiency!
Check here for efficiency
All energy-using technologies currently installed – from IT equipment to boilers – should be assessed for their efficiency. It’s worth asking if current models are efficient and up-to-date and whether they would benefit from an upgrade. Many schools find that the best way to do this is to do a walk-around survey with the school’s facilities manager or caretaker to assess the whole site and identify possible areas of improvement. Using control settings, such as reduced boiler times and lighting sensors, can also help to further reduce energy wastage.
Shea’s top tips for energy efficiency
- Switch desktop computers for laptops as these consume far less energy.
- Use Energy-Star appliances which use energy more efficiently.
- Replace all your incandescent lights with LED or energy-efficient fluorescents (they cost a little more upfront, but last 10 times longer and are four times more efficient).
- Turn off lights when not in use!
- Have your heating on a timer which comes on in the morning and is turned off at night.
- Check that buildings are properly insulated.
- Try to use natural lighting as much as possible.
- Use smarter metering solutions to monitor energy use and identify potential energy efficiencies.