Energy saving in your school: Top tips

Written by: Suzanne Gibbon | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Schools can play their part in responding to the climate emergency while also reducing their energy costs at a time of rising prices. Suzanne Gibbon from the Let’s Go Zero campaign offers 10 energy-saving tips and examples from schools


As we move into winter, schools are facing an energy crisis with rocketing fuel bills taking funds away from important areas such as teaching, support staff and building repairs. This is negatively impacting students, who have already suffered two years of turmoil from Covid.

The Energy Bill Relief Scheme, announced in September (DBEI, 2022), will limit the cost of schools' energy bills in the short term. But solutions for the long-term are urgently needed.

The Let’s Go Zero campaign is supporting all UK schools, colleges and nurseries to be zero carbon by 2030. The campaign is asking for government help in the form of increased funding for schools to carry out retrofit projects.

These includes high grade insulation on walls, floors and roofs to stop energy leakage and install renewable energy fuel sources such as solar and wind power or heat pumps. A government focus on training the construction and heating industries in these retrofit techniques and renewable heating systems is also vital.

Schools can sign up to Let’s Go Zero to show their intent and ambition to get to zero carbon and call on the government for support. With more than 1,700 schools now signed up, it is proving to government that schools want to be part of the positive solution and lead the way to a zero-carbon society.

In 2022/23, Let’s Go Zero will work closely with the Department for Education to promote key campaign goals, including an urgent retrofit of the school estate – making buildings more energy efficient to lower emissions and fuel bills.

The Let’s Go Zero campaign is also advising schools on how to cut costs and carbon this winter – from simple interventions such as making sure heating systems and lighting are powered down when the school is not in use, to heating classrooms to only 19°C or running a switch-off campaign with students. But the campaign is clear that these are only stop-gap measures and must come alongside action from the government.


Energy saving advice

That said, here are 10 energy-saving tips from the Let’s Go Zero campaign to help schools reduce emissions and save money in the here and now:

  • Get every department to do a “switch-off assessment” for non-usage times – lights, computers, equipment, kitchens, science labs, etc. A 10% saving on an increased energy bill is significant – it could lead to £10,000-plus in savings (maybe as much as £20,000 to £30,000 for a large secondary school).
  • Get your students involved in switch-off campaigns and no energy audits. Students can be a force of nature when getting things done in the school community. Have a look on the Transform Our World website for free lesson plans and resources (see further information for all links).
  • Don’t block radiators – leave one metre distance around every radiator to enable air flow to heat the room.
  • Check radiators for even temperature and let your facilities team know if they need bleeding.
  • Make sure that thermostats are set at the recommended temperature of 19 °C for classrooms. Only heat the school when everyone is there – not from when the first person arrives and up until the last person leaves.
  • Be ruthless about retaining the heat – ensure that doors and windows are closed and you have insulated wherever possible.
  • Monitor your energy use – is the heating being left on over the weekend or holidays?
  • Share information on increased energy costs with everyone in the school and equate them to other things that the money could have purchased – for instance a staff salary or learning resources.
  • Explore energy efficiency and renewable support programmes – there are many ways to improve your estate with both government and private finance. Work with companies that have been recommended by another school or through your local authority.
  • Ask for help – there is an enormous amount of help and guidance out there, from local authorities, environmental groups, local businesses and Let’s Go Zero.


Let’s Go Zero Schools

Off-timetable: Students have a termly ‘no electricity’ day at South Molton Primary School (top)


Many of the schools signed up to Let’s Go Zero have been installing energy-saving measures and encouraging energy-saving behaviour. Here are a few examples.

Stony Dean School in Buckinghamshire replaced all its old lighting with LED lightbulbs, financed through Salix funding. The payback was instant with an average £300 monthly saving on energy bills. Through Salix they also manged to install 94 solar panels in April 2021 making a £2,700 saving after loan repayments.

Worle Community School in North Somerset is saving money and carbon from solar panels installed on its school buildings by working with Let’s Go Zero supporter Solar for Schools, saving them nearly £500 a week dependent on time of year and market price for energy.

Cheney Secondary School in Oxford has reduced energy use by 30% through smart metering, identifying wastage and reducing use. Headteacher Rob Parvey explained: “Instead of turning the heating on across all buildings automatically from October to March, it's about thinking where heat is actually needed.”

Working with the Low Carbon Hub, a local organisation, they have installed solar panels on their buildings with no upfront costs for the school. This meets 11% of their electricity needs which they pay for at a reduced rate.

Not all initiatives need to be structural. For the last five years South Molton Primary School in North Devon has been doing a “No Electricity Day” every term. This involves turning off all electricity for the day and trying to do something outside and learn about the environment and energy. It can be a challenge, especially in the winter when it is dark, but the students enjoy the experience while learning about the importance of energy-saving.

Bellevue Place Education Trust comprises nine primary schools across London and Berkshire, which have all started monitoring their energy use by installing smart metering. This allows them to identify behavioural patterns even at classroom level. This work revealed that excessive use of one of the school's lifts was costing the trust an extra £3,000 every year. By actively encouraging staff to take the stairs and keeping the lift free for those who really need it, the trust is saving energy and money.


Conclusion

The bigger the campaign grows, the louder our voice will be. So, if you know a school that hasn’t signed up yet, tell them about Let’s Go Zero. And if you’re already supporting our work, then look-out for opportunities to help us influence government policy in 2022/23 and beyond.

  • Suzanne Gibbon is the programme co-ordinator schools at Ashden, which runs the Let’s Go Zero Schools campaign. Visit https://letsgozero.org/


Further information & resources


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