Come top of the class in energy management

With pressure mounting on education establishments to cut energy costs and stay in line with an ever-increasingly ‘green’ political agenda, David Young OBE, Director of The Green Electrician Group, gives Education Today readers some advice on how to improve their energy saving strategies.

One of the biggest challenges that many schools face is that they were built long before energy efficiency became an issue, whilst others, built in the last decade, promised ultra-high efficiency, but have failed to deliver in practice.

The statistics speak for themselves: 30% of energy consumed in the UK is wasted, but some very simple resource-saving measures could cut a school’s energy costs by up to 20%. 

Efficiency wins

One of the biggest wins can be a review of lighting, which accounts for between 20 to 25% of the total energy use in schools and by simply fitting energy saving light bulbs, schools could reduce lighting costs by up to 75%. There is the additional benefit that more modern lighting has been proven to create a better light for learning.

Heating is another big energy user, accounting for at least half of a school’s annual fuel use.  No one wants cold classrooms, but reducing the temperature by just 1°C can save 8% on heating costs.

School managers should also look at their policies on energy use out of hours.  PC monitors, for example, account for almost two-thirds of a computer’s energy consumption; if left on for 24 hours a day a computer will cost £25 a year to run. Multiply that by the number of PCs in your school and it soon adds up.

Furthermore, turning vending machines off out of hours could help save £85 a year, a 70% saving from the £120 a year it could cost for leaving them on 24 hours a day. A simple seven-day time switch can be used for this.

Energy generation

In addition to simple energy saving measures, schools are increasingly looking at energy generation as a means of achieving additional savings or a carbon neutral status. 

Shropshire’s Barrow 1618 Primary School has become the county’s first carbon neutral school.  The Green Electrician Group was asked to provide a detailed assessment of the school’s energy use and implement an energy reduction plan.  The school now has a cheaper two-year electricity supply contract and has installed energy efficient lighting and radiators. The Group also installed both solar PV and biomass systems to help the school generate its own renewable power, and the company has installed an energy monitoring system to ensure maximum savings are achieved.

The school has been impressed with the results. It is estimated that the school is now saving 12 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year and its combined electricity and heating bill has been reduced by 31%.  Income generated from the feed-in tariff for the solar PV and the renewable heat incentive for the biomass is forecast to generate a net annual income of nearly £95,000 over the next 20 years.

Raising awareness

A school’s staff and student body should be made aware of the implementation of any green initiatives to ensure the project’s longevity and successful fulfilment.  Pupils can be used as a force for good in ‘pestering’ the staff to change their habits. 

For example, pupil-led ‘switch-off’ campaigns, or giving students the task to create good housekeeping measures for the electrical equipment in their classrooms, can help educate students about energy use and act as real life case studies. Handing initiatives such as these over to students can also be an effective way of giving pupils a sense of empowerment by taking an active role in the operation of the school.  As inventor Thomas Edison once said: “It’s better to enlighten a child than to light a school room.”

The first step for schools looking to improve efficiencies and make savings should be to get advice from energy experts who can audit the school’s energy use and make appropriate recommendations, based on best practice and a school’s individual circumstances.

Armed with the technologies, support and buy-in for pupils and staff, schools can quickly make real savings, but most importantly set a good example for future generations and the wider community.