Conserving energy in schools
Every school in the UK has been affected by the European energy crisis. Combined with rising inflation, the increased cost…
Every school in the UK has been affected by the European energy crisis. Combined with rising inflation, the increased cost of energy has created a black hole of up to £500,000 for some secondary schools.
There are other financial pressures, too. In fact, the total funding shortfall for primary and secondary schools is set to reach £2 billion by 2024, according to an analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
In the face of such pressure on budgets, it has never been more important for schools to limit what they spend on energy.
The price cap
The Government has provided a temporary lifeline, after school leaders warned of “apocalyptic” hikes in energy bills of up to 500%.
A price cap is in place until 31st March 2023, which limits the cost of energy to £211 per megawatt hour for electricity and £75 for gas. Ministers claim this is the equivalent of a £4,000 saving for a school paying £10,000 a month for energy.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL school leaders’ union, pointed out the “glaring problem” of the price cap being “time-limited to six months”. With the energy crisis expected to last until 2024, schools cannot be certain that they will have enough Government support in the longer term.
How can schools spend less on energy?
Clearly, schools need to act quickly to reduce their energy consumption – but how can they do this?
Switch to LED lighting
Switching to LED lighting is probably the single most important change a school can make in order to save energy.
Inefficient, traditional lighting typically accounts for half of a school’s electricity bill, so making the change to LED can result in significantly lower energy bills in the longer term.
LED lights also offer:
- Improved visibility, leading to better learning outcomes
- A long lifespan, reducing spend on bulbs and light fittings
- A lower carbon footprint, with no UV or heat emissions
- Low voltage operation, reducing running costs
In fact, LED lights use 75%-85% less energy than traditional lights!
Monitor meter readings
Many schools have already installed smart meters to measure their energy use, but are they using this technology in the best way?
Someone in the school should have responsibility for checking meter readings regularly and looking for any anomalies. For example, if there are spikes of out-of-hours energy consumption (e.g. evenings, or school holidays), these need to be investigated. Perhaps timers have been set incorrectly, or systems that should be turned off have been left on.
Larger schools may wish to sign up to Energy Sparks (https://energysparks.uk). This service “provides an online energy analysis tool and energy education programme specifically designed to help schools reduce their electricity and gas usage through the analysis of smart meter data.”
Install solar panels
With energy prices remaining high for the foreseeable future, some schools may have a strong case for generating their own energy via solar panels.
There are several schemes – and some grants – available to schools interested in solar panel installation, such as The Schools’ Energy Co-operative.
Encourage eco-friendly behaviour
It’s important for everyone to do their bit – and that includes staff and pupils. The Eco Schools programme accepts enrolment each September. Schools that sign up are given assistance to create an eco-council of staff, governors and students. The council can choose energy as one of three focus areas to work on across the school year.
Secondary schools can work with the Duke of Edinburgh scheme to appoint students as Energy Envoys. These students can audit your school’s energy conservation effort, launch energy saving projects and campaign for everyone in the school to use energy more wisely.
Implement simple changes
Small changes add up. Here are some quick fix ideas for your school to reduce its energy consumption:
- Make sure all thermostats are set to the most efficient temperature (18 degrees celsius is recommended for classrooms)
- Check all timers, make sure they’re set to the correct date and time, and that they are programmed only for actual hours of use
- Turn things off! Ideally automate this with controls and timers
- Switch appliances off at the wall
- Encourage students to manually switch off monitors when not being used
- Similarly, make sure staff switch off interactive screens when not being used
It is well worth the time to draw up a checklist of all electrical equipment (iPads, PCs, screens, photocopiers, printers, projectors, vending machines, lights, water heaters, etc) to be switched off in the evenings, and at weekends and holidays.
Cutting costs elsewhere
Energy, of course, is far from the only source of pressure on school budgets. So, what about other ways to save money?
Carry out an audit of equipment that is expensive to run, and consider whether it could be replaced with modern, efficient, kit.
For example, Propelair toilets use 84% less water with each flush compared to traditional toilets.
LED lights, as mentioned above, are substantially cheaper to run than old fashioned lights.
Also consider suppliers such as paper towels, which have to be purchased over and over again. Might it be more cost-effective in the long run to install hand dryers?
Rent, don’t buy, equipment
Making a change like switching to LED lighting saves money in the long run, but there is obviously a cost to making any significant upgrade. This is where alternative financing options, such as leasing, can really help.
Many schools simply do not have the money in the bank to spend large amounts of capital on new equipment. Renting this equipment can be a great solution, as it often involves low or no set-up costs, and – depending on the product – it often gives you access to servicing and maintenance, too.
So, what can schools do to conserve their energy use in 2023 and beyond? The answer lies in a combination of upgrades to more eco-friendly equipment, and better education across the staff and student bodies in making energy-efficient choices.