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Improve energy efficiency in your school

April 9, 2021, 16:49 GMT+1
Read in 8 minutes
  • Ceri Williams gives her advice on how schools can improve their efficiency, reduce their costs and improve their carbon footprint...
Improve energy efficiency in your school

While the pandemic is understandably at the forefront of everybody’s minds, it’s important that organisations, including schools, do not lose sight of their environmental targets and remain committed to tackling climate change.

As well as benefiting the environment, making energy efficiency improvements has the added advantage of bringing significant financial savings to schools, enabling funds to be redirected to other important areas.

Replace old technologies

Replacing outdated technologies with more efficient upgrades is a good place to start when it comes to tackling energy consumption in schools, and it is likely to be the first port of call for any energy manager if a school’s energy bills and maintenance costs are notably high.

Finding out what your school’s energy spend per pupil is (dividing your annual energy bill by the number of pupils) will give a good indication of what you could be aiming for. 

With lighting accounting for a significant proportion of electricity expended within education, upgrading inefficient lighting to more modern LED (light-emitting diode) alternatives is a great starting point for schools wanting to implement energy-saving measures and is one of the most effective ways to reduce energy consumption.

Identify inefficient use of energy

Installing lighting controls and adding motion sensors further reduces energy usage, while the longer lifespan of LED lamps also decreases maintenance costs. As well as these benefits, new LEDs can also improve the aesthetics of buildings and enhance learning and teaching environments.

It is important to identify where energy can be conserved. Walking around a school and liaising with the site manager, who will be aware of any day-to-day issues, can help to establish areas for improvement, such as windows remaining open when radiators are in use, or lights being left on when they are not needed – a problem which can be easily addressed with lighting sensors.

Energy consumption can also be reduced by updating energy control systems. New smart technologies allow for more precise control, especially if combined with an energy management system. This gives schools the ability to quickly, easily and often automatically adjust their energy systems to meet their needs in real-time.

Get pupils involved

Involving pupils in any energy efficiency projects you are working on will not only help to educate them on important environmental issues, but it can inspire them to play an active role in reducing energy use themselves.

Offering fun interactive workshops and presentations on climate change, to enable pupils to learn about energy-saving measures, 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 groups – during assemblies. This will keep them engaged in energy-saving efforts and make them feel proud of the role they have played.

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 bronze, silver, gold or platinum Eco Award certificates from staff. They loved showing how they made a difference.

Choose the right technologies to invest in

Aside from replacing outdated lighting, investing in additional energy-efficient technologies should be at the forefront of any plans. Simple measures like adding insulation or heating controls can achieve substantial energy and financial savings. Schools can save thousands of pounds a year through such investments.

Installing Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS), which act as a central point of control for multiple building services, can be very effective. Used to control heating, ventilation and air conditioning all in one, BEMS provide a way to monitor and rapidly adjust equipment, improving the reliability and performance of buildings and delivering considerable savings.

Renewables such as solar panels and heat pumps can also be viable options to help future proof their buildings. As the cost of Solar PV has fallen, it’s a beneficial measure for schools looking to lower their carbon footprint and reduce their dependence on grid electricity. Solar PV installations are also a popular way to raise awareness of the sustainability agenda amongst students and the local community.

Make the most of funding

The case for investing in energy efficiency can seem obvious, but for many schools, concerns over how to finance such investments may be a barrier. However, funding options are currently available, even in light of the pandemic, to help invest in such technologies.

These include interest-free loans from Salix Finance – a government funded organisation which provides 100 per cent 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 ten years, funding from Salix has allowed me to implement hundreds 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 look into the funding options available.

Take a holistic approach

Choosing to address energy efficiency holistically – 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 might want to 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 boosting annual savings, such an approach also helps save money on design, installation and labour costs, while also minimising disruption on site.

What you need to know

  • Ceri has played a leading role in helping Torfaen County Borough Council improve its schools’ energy efficiency. Over the last three years, a range of new measures have been installed including LED lighting, automatic lighting controls, BEMS projects and eight boiler replacements.
  • These projects have significantly reduced carbon emissions and energy bills, collectively lowering emissions by around 672 tonnes a year and making annual savings of over £151,760. In total, they are expected to save over £2.6m over the lifetime of the technologies, helping ease financial strains currently faced by the schools.
  • Going forward, Ceri plans to install further energy efficiency measures across schools in the borough including more LED and BEMS projects, as well as controls on boilers. The council is also exploring Solar PV, combined with battery storage and heat pumps, which has the potential to provide substantial savings and address heat decarbonisation.

Ceri Williams is Schools Energy and Finance Officer at Torfaen County Borough Council with over 20 years of experience in the sector.