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Making energy efficiency part of your school’s culture

Saving on energy costs isn’t the only incentive for schools to take control of their energy usage.

Prioritising efficient energy consumption and management not only helps reduce costs but, according to the EECA, increases productivity, staff wellbeing and performance. Of course, there are also environmental benefits for schools that are able to reduce their overall carbon footprint.

Here are some quick tips to make your lighting, heating and electrical-use more energy efficient:

  1. Label switches to remind users to ‘turn off’ or post signs on doors to ‘turn off lights’ and ‘close me’ to keep in heat during winter.
  2. Nominating a few students or staff members as ‘energy allies’ to make sure things are switched off or unplugged when not in use.
  3. Ensuring computers, projectors, monitors, and any other electrical devices are set to enter ‘sleep mode’ when not in use.
  4. Set energy reduction goals and keep the school community updated to keep everyone invested. Perhaps set reward targets, such as competitions or group activities.
  5. Reinvest energy savings into upgrading your school infrastructure to further improve efficiency, such as installing solar panels. Ensure that you carry out regular audits, and/or install an energy monitoring system so that you know what areas to improve.

Industry insights from energy management specialists

School News spoke with a couple of expert suppliers to uncover their opinions on the subject: challenges they see for schools within the sector and solutions that are available.

How to know where to start?

When you don’t know where to start, the best place is an audit.  This will help you identify how much energy your school is using, how much it costs and where the problem areas are, or where the excess usage is coming from.

“A quality energy audit provides a school with a list of priority projects for enhancing the learning environment and saving energy at the same time,” said Erin Roughton from Emsol. “It also helps a school understand where most of its energy costs occur and how it can improve lighting and comfort to achieve a better learning environment.”

Enercon’s Alastair Hines recommended carrying out a Type 2 audit: “By having a Type 2 energy audit carried out, a school gets a very good understanding of where their energy is being used, i.e., heating, lighting, pool, etc., and receives a list of costed potential energy savings measures along with the savings that could be achieved with each measure. These can then form the basis of any ongoing maintenance program, such as lighting replacements or future capital investment.”

To make the most of your school’s energy audit, have the results play a key role in future planning for the school grounds. Mr Roughton explained: “An audit is ideal to help develop a 10-year property plan so that investments and cost savings each year are included in budgets.”

Balancing energy efficiency with classroom comfort

This is a challenge most schools will be familiar with, as the learning environment can be heavily influenced by things such as heating/cooling, lighting and ventilation.

Mr Hines said: “If the environment is too hot or cold or too stuffy then this has a negative impact on students’ ability to concentrate and learn.”

A focus of any energy management system must be whether school facilities are operated efficiently, maintaining a good learning environment, without excess energy-use or excess energy-related maintenance costs.

Re-considering construction

Mr Roughton specified: “Heating and cooling spaces in poorly designed buildings is a main energy efficiency challenge. Sometimes these poor constructions are found in new buildings.”

Energy management is undeniably related to the layout and construction of the school building itself. “While performance improvements and savings can always be made, it is more expensive and less effective to retrofit energy efficiency measures into existing facilities,” said Mr Hines.

“Including energy efficiency into the design of new facilities and reviewing new build designs from an energy perspective prior to construction is the best option.”

Boilers are another point of contention for schools looking to upgrade their energy management system. Suppliers informed School News that another main challenge for them is “transitioning from old, inefficient central boiler systems to alternative heating options”. Mr Roughton noted: “This challenge includes developing a cultural change at school, such as learning when and how doors and windows can be left open so as to avoid unnecessary heat loss while maintaining adequate ventilation.

Grants and incentives that schools may utilise:

Mr Hines advised: “The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has grants and an interest free loan scheme, which is available to schools through EECA’s programme partners and is publicly funded. In general, grant funding is available for energy audits for schools with energy spends in excess of $200k per annum and interest free Crown Loans are available for projects that meet EECA’s simple savings payback criteria.  EECA’s grant funding programmes are subject to change so grants are processed and approved on a case-by-case basis.”

Mr Roughton echoed the EECA as a useful source for schools, and noted: “If projects are big enough then using an interest free Crown Loan is a popular option. Innovative or new technologies with replication potential can be 40 percent funded if eligible. Some schools apply to community trusts, electricity lines company trusts, energy retailers, or other sponsors, to help fund projects such as solar electricity generation.”

What energy saving solutions do suppliers recommend?

Mr Hines suggested:

  • Operating heating only as required and introducing effective controls.
  • Ensuring there are effective lighting controls and switching in place.
  • Reviewing automated building controls to ensure energy systems only operate when required and provide adequate comfort and service levels.
  • Upgrading lighting to LED technology and maximising use of natural light.
  • Ensuring outside air is used to best advantage and is only at a level that is required to provide sufficient ventilation.
  • Developing a culture of energy efficient behaviour with both staff and students.  

Mr Roughton’s suggestions included:

  • Improving controls on boilers and heating radiators; replacing inefficient heating with heat pumps or solar passive building designs, and increasing insulation. 
  • Weaving energy savings into all curriculum topics (energy management involves much more than upgrading technologies).

He said: “Often, energy efficiency projects have many other benefits, such as reducing maintenance costs or improving health and safety. For example, if more shade is required in outdoor areas then construct a shade using solar panels, which can also be used as an environmental education feature.

“In addition, some projects help with transitioning to a low carbon economy, which includes replacing fuel based heating systems with electric technologies such as heat pumps.”

Rosie Clarke

Rosie is the managing editor here at Multimedia Pty Ltd, working across School News New Zealand and School News Australia. She has spent 10+ years in B2B journalism, and has spent some time over the last couple of years teaching as a sessional academic. Feel free to contact her at any time with editorial or magazine content enquiries.
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