Pop Quiz: Besides personnel, typically what is a school district’s largest expense?
Answer: Energy costs!
It may be surprising to know that K-12 school districts spend more than $56 billion annually on energy — more than what is spent on computers, textbooks, and furniture! Even colleges and universities spend close to $2 billion on energy each year.
But the good news is — Energy is one of the few expenses that can be reduced without sacrificing the quality of education!
Here are a few areas that can significantly impact energy efficiency in our schools.
Sustainable Buildings: High-performance buildings can reduce energy costs by as much as 30 percent. In most cases, the cost of construction does not necessarily exceed that of conventional buildings. The major factor is the building envelope (walls, windows, roofing, insulation, etc.). Additionally, incorporating natural light into the environment can reduce the amount of energy consumed by electric lights, which in turn reduces the air conditioning needed to offset the amount of heat that electric lights produce.
Maintenance and Operations: As with any piece of equipment or system, regular maintenance is key to smooth, efficient operation. Heating, cooling, lighting, and water heating can account for more than 80 percent of a school’s energy use. M & O must go beyond just repairing equipment when it breaks. It must include a combination of preventive and predictive maintenance. Building systems must be monitored at all times to provide confirmation that they are functioning at peak efficiencies.
Water Efficiency: Although two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is water, less than one half of one percent is currently available for our use. Water conservation methods (efficient fixtures, graywater or rainwater catchment systems, xeriscaping, etc.) can help to reduce municipal water consumption by 25 to 75 percent. This in turn, reduces the energy required for water treatment.
Renewable Energy Systems: Renewable energy leveraged from natural, renewable resources (solar, geothermal, wind, biomass) can deliver electricity, heating and cooling while conserving natural resources, meeting regulatory requirements and goals, and increasing national security.
Dual Purpose Classrooms: Planning and utilizing classroom space efficiently can considerably reduce energy costs. For example, a classroom that can accommodate two or more functions at different times (such as computer classes and non-computer classes) reduces the need for two separate areas for these functions. Integrating CPUs and displays into the furniture itself creates a clutter-free, multi-use work area that can serve a variety of functions within the same classroom.
Behavior Modification: Saving energy by modifying our own behaviors is one of the least expensive methods of reducing costs. Districts that participate in the Schools for Energy Efficiency (SEE) program have averaged a 13 percent reduction in annual energy usage. Some districts have even reached savings of over 30 percent! Many colleges and universities encourage teams of students to compete to save water and electricity in residence halls and elsewhere. This behavioral modification tends to foster long-term positive behaviors that reach beyond the perimeter of campus.
Extra credit: Encourage your school (or company) to adopt an energy savings mentality.
Sources: Quick Facts, School Planning & Management; U.S. Department of Energy; Energy Star, EnergySmart Schools; Federal Energy Management Program.