What can Schools be doing to reduce their energy bills?

As the summer holidays draw to an end and the focus now starts to shift towards a new academic year, then it is already clear that one of the big challenges for all schools this year will simply be making ends meet. Schools are not sheltered from the inflationary pressures that are impacting every other walk of life, and the unprecedented energy price increases are a cause for serious concern. So what can be done to minimise a School’s energy bills?

Well, different schools will face different challenges, and some will have a greater scope for making savings than others. However, it’s often reported that most organisations can cut energy spend by at least 10% by taking some simple efficiency measures, and often by 20%, by simple actions that produce quick returns on investment. So the good news is that it’s more than likely that there will be many simple and straightforward ways that you can save money and become more sustainable in your School. Some of these will be through changing behaviours and culture, but equally importantly can be through more active management of buildings, plant and equipment along with strategic planning.

Here is a checklist of the top 6 quick and easy energy saving wins:

1. Behaviour Change – Saving energy = Saving the Planet = Saving Money, and in my experience, staff and pupils, once aware of the energy they are using and what it is costing in both monetary and environmental terms, are more than happy to make the necessary behaviour changes. However, empowering them to take ownership of the changes is even more impactful, and there are a number of off-the-shelf and easy ways to encourage this.

  • Perhaps the most widely known and easiest route is to sign your school up to the Eco Schools programme (enrolment happens in September) and, with their help, establish an eco-council comprised of Staff, Student & Governor representatives and ensure they select Energy as one of the three Focus areas to work on across this academic year.
  • If you are a secondary school that runs the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, then you may look to encourage a number of students to become Energy Envoys. The Energy Envoys scheme is a volunteering opportunity provided by the National Energy Foundation for young people looking to complete the Volunteering section of their Bronze, Silver or Gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. The objective is for your Energy Envoys to carry out audits, identify energy savings projects and run campaigns to help your school and community, use energy more wisely, save money and help to save the planet (www.energyenvoys.org.uk )
  • Or you could simply set up your own Energy Team, including teachers, caretakers, Governors and pupils, who will become the flag- bearers for the energy-saving policies in the school.
    • Start with the basics, such as switching off lights and electrical equipment when not in use.
    • Remove obstructions from windows and radiators to make the best use of daylight and make sure heating systems are operating efficiently.
    • Encourage pupils and staff to keep doors closed wherever possible to stop warm or cool air from escaping.
    • Adjust temperature controls to cool rooms if the heating is on before opening windows.
    • Many schools have groups of ‘eco-champions’ or ‘power rangers’ who check at the end of each day for equipment or lights that have been left on, switch them off and inform the staff responsible.
    • The DFE also has helpful guidance advice for estates teams to consider and implement. click here


2. Check the Temperature – Make sure all heating and cooling controls are set to the most efficient temperatures.

The recommended temperature for classrooms is 18°C.

Make everyone aware that heating costs increase by around 5-10% for every 1 degree C increase in temperature so reducing the temperature in a building by 1oC will save 5% to 10% of the heating bill. Operating the heating systems for an hour less each day will also save a similar amount.

Not all parts of the school need to be at the same temperature – so make sure temperature controls are set and adjusted to reflect different uses and activities in different areas or rooms.

Check timers so they reflect actual hours of use and are set to the right date and time (particularly after the clocks go forward or back).

3. Turn Things Off – and wherever possible, automate this process with controls, timers and system setups.

Lights – Lighting accounts for around half of the electricity used in a typical school.

Natural light should be used instead of classroom lights wherever feasible. Encourage teachers to fully open their blinds before classes start and check on the amount of available light at the beginning of each lesson. This way, they can make adjustments and choose the best lighting for their pupils. Also, make sure that windows and skylights are cleaned regularly to allow for maximum natural light.

Labelling light switches is a simple way to help ensure that only required lights are turned on.

Get your Eco Team/Champions to remind staff and students to play their part by turning off lights when they leave a room. This could cut school lighting costs by up to 15%.

Wherever possible, switch to LED lights – they use up to 85% less energy than traditional bulbs. They improve the quality of light and last far longer than older types. Installing lighting controls and using occupancy lighting sensors in infrequently used areas will also contribute to big savings.

ICT – The use of ICT has grown and grown over the past few years, and in many schools, ICT now represents one of the largest uses of energy. However, consumption can be reduced significantly by ensuring energy saving settings are turned on wherever possible and equipment is powered down/turned off when not in use

Encourage all staff and students to manually turn off monitors when they are not being used. Monitors are responsible for almost two-thirds of a computer’s total energy consumption, so if they are on 24 hours a day, each school PC will cost £25 a year to run.

Appliances should be switched off at the wall where possible to conserve energy. Where this is not possible, an automated system shut-down should be developed outside of school hours to ensure any ICT equipment left on at the end of the day is not wasting energy when out of use. This is particularly true for PCs and Interactive Display Screens.

Vending Machines – vending machines dispensing non- perishable items should be switched off when the school day ends – by switching them off out of hours, you could save up to £85 per machine every year

Automation – Where systems (such as Building Management Systems) have the functionality built in to monitor and set timed or controlled use, now is the time to make sure these are working, set correctly and most importantly, are being used.

Modern heating controls are accurate, tamperproof and have the facility for 7-day programming. Heating can be set to operate at different times of the day or week to suit the occupation pattern. For the more complicated systems then staff training may be needed or advised to make sure you are making the best use of the systems you have, and any training costs will quickly be repaid.

Where systems are not smart, then investing in simple plug-in timer Switches or Thermostatic Controls to automate the turning on and off, of as many devices and bits of equipment as possible will again pay you back in no time and takes the human error out of the equation. Automation will ensure that whilst the school is not occupied in the evenings and weekends, energy is not being wasted on heating spaces and powering devices that are simply not needed.

Holidays – If I had a pound for each time I have visited a school during a holiday period to find heating systems on full blast and ICT kit left turned on, I would literally be a very rich man. This in my mind is the easiest win of all, so, it’s important to ensure that electrical devices and appliances are turned off throughout the holiday times

The school’s energy team should create a full checklist of electrical equipment – photocopiers, lights, printers, PCs, projectors, vending machines, water heaters, TVs and so on – with each device checked before the start of the holidays to make sure they are turned off.

Everyone should be made aware that devices in standby mode also continue to consume electricity.

4. Maintain & Optimise – as with many things in life, it’s a false economy to skip on maintenance and servicing; for example, if a boiler is poorly operated or maintained, this can drive up your heating costs by 30% or more. So again, before winter approaches, make sure all heating, air handling and other systems are serviced and running as well as they can be and adjusted for optimum efficiency.

5. Check Consumption, Bills and Tariffs

Many schools have recently had smart meters installed on their main incoming gas, electric and water supplies. These provide information about how much energy is used and when. This will help you to understand your energy use and how it can be reduced. If you have a smart meter, learn the best way to use it.

Use your meters for energy monitoring and benchmarking. Monitoring meter readings regularly is a low or no-cost measure that enables you to monitor energy uses and patterns.

Look out for fluctuations in energy use patterns, especially spikes of energy consumption out of hours (i.e. weekends, evenings or in the early hours of the morning), and investigate. They may have a perfectly normal explanation, but more likely than not, it will lead you to boilers and systems with timers set incorrectly, faulty systems or components turning on and off when not needed and systems left on when they should be turned off.

For a Secondary School with a large site or an Academy Trust with multiple sites, then I would strongly advise signing up to the Energy Sparks (https://energysparks.uk ) services where “Energy Sparks 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.”

With regard to bills and bill checking, then this needn’t be complicated and is definitely worthwhile, don’t assume your bills are 100% correct as far too often they are not! Double check you are not paying VAT at 20% (Schools should only pay 5% and 0% Climate Charge Levy) If you buy your energy through a Broker, then bill checking and validation are services they should offer to you. So check that your supplier is providing these services and then make sure you take some time to understand and analyse your bills with them. As a minimum, you should be confident that:

Your bills are accurate and based on actual meter readings, so you only pay for what you use

You understand if energy usage is up or down compared to previous years

You identify unexpectedly high or unusual patterns of energy use so that quick action can be take

6. Make your Own energy – with energy prices so high and rising then, the business case for installing Solar Panels has never been better. There are a number of financial models to help fund Solar schemes, and in some cases, grants are available. However, the scheme I like most is run by The Schools’ Energy Co-operative https://schools-energy-coop.co.uk

“The Schools’ Energy Co-operative installs community funded solar panel systems on schools free of charge as well as paying all its profits to its member schools. As a social enterprise, we are dedicated to supporting our school members and providing an alternative to the prevailing commercial rent a roof or leasing model. Central to this is our aspiration to retain as much as possible of the benefits for the schools, their students and the surrounding communities. We also work with our school members and local community groups to maximise the environmental, educational and community impact of the solar installations.”

For more information on how enFrame’s energy experts can help your school set a pathway to Net Zero then please see our net-zero page or contact us here.