Energy efficient classrooms save utility costs
By Jay Fremont
Despite cutbacks in education budgets across the country, the movement to create more energy-efficient classrooms seems to be moving ahead, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than most educators and environmentalists would like to see.
In the long run, of course, increased energy efficiency in the nation's schools and colleges will result in significant savings on utility costs while also helping to protect the environment from further damage.
Center for Green Schools
One of the driving forces behind the move toward greater energy efficiency in American schools is the Center for Green Schools, which is an initiative of the U.S. Green Building Council based in Washington, D.C.
In its 2009 report "Energy Efficiency Programs in K-12 Schools," the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that energy costs are second only to personnel expenditures for the nation's K-12 school districts.
The agency estimated these energy costs at $8 billion annually nationwide in 2008 but said that roughly a quarter of this total, or $2 billion a year, could be saved by improving energy efficiency in the schools.
Reduced energy costs are only one of the benefits that would be realized by improving U.S. schools' energy efficiency, according to the EPA.
Other benefits would include a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, added economic stimulus from new investments in energy efficiency, improvement of indoor air quality, and improvement of student performance.
Ohio is making significant strides in its efforts to improve energy efficiency in schools throughout the state.
This progress can be credited in large part to the Ohio School Facilities Commission's enthusiastic adoption of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Schools, or LEED, rating system, which was developed by the USGBC.
Ohio in the Lead
Lisa Laney, green schools program director for the Ohio commission, said in late April 2013 that “Ohio is leading the nation in our green school efforts. We're even beating California.”
She noted that as of early 2013 Ohio had 345 schools either certified or registered for certification under LEED standards. This compared to only 201 in California, according to Laney.
Cited as one example of Ohio's progress on the energy efficiency front is the Cloverleaf Local School District in Medina County.
In the face of a looming school budget deficit, the district consolidated the operations of three previously separate elementary schools into a new, energy-efficient building, thus cutting both operating costs and utility bills.
Wisconsin Success Story
Other success stories are popping up in schools and colleges across the country.
In Wisconsin, Lake Mills Middle School, completed in 2010, has been hailed as one of the nation's most energy-efficient schools. The school received a LEED platinum rating after scoring 58 out of a possible 80 points.
Built by Wisconsin-based Miron Construction, the school realized annual energy savings of $85,000, thanks to a high-efficiency building envelope, energy-efficient lighting and controls system, and a geothermal heating and cooling system.
In a November 2012 referendum, voters in the Lake Mills School District voted to authorize the construction of an even more energy-efficient elementary school adjacent to the middle school.
The new $18.7 million building for Prospect Elementary School will incorporate even more advanced energy efficiency features to meet the now-tougher LEED standards, upgraded in the past year or so.
Geothermal Heat, Cooling
Like the middle school, the new elementary school building will use geothermal heat and cooling and will also incorporate a number of other simple techniques designed to keep energy costs down.
For example, new low-flow toilets will have auto-sensors. High-quality glass windows will reflect glare and thus help to keep heat from radiating into the classrooms.
The move to increase the energy efficiency of classrooms is not limited to K-12 schools. Several U.S. colleges and universities also are taking steps to green up their classroom environments.
Building Projects at UCF
A flurry of building projects – with a collective price tag of about $67 million – was in progress at the University of Central Florida in Orlando during the first half of 2013. Among them is the so-called Classroom II project, scheduled to be completed sometime in the fall of 2013.
Classroom II and other building projects underway at UCF are being constructed to meet LEED standards for energy efficiency. As a consequence, the new buildings will have better energy efficiency, air quality, and water usage.
According to UCF's Department of Sustainability and Energy Management, the new buildings will have 20 to 40 percent lower energy and water costs than older campus structures.
About the Author: Jay Fremont is a freelance author who has written extensively about personal finance, corporate strategy, social media, and locating discount office furniture.
All but two UK regions failing on school energy efficiency
Most schools are still "treading water" on implementing energy efficient technology, according to new analysis of Government data from eLight.
Yorkshire & the Humber and the North East are the only regions where schools have collectively reduced how much they spend on energy per pupil, cutting expenditure by 4.4% and 0.9% respectively. Every other region of England increased its average energy expenditure per pupil, with schools in Inner London doing so by as much as 23.5%.
According to The Carbon Trust, energy bills in UK schools amount to £543 million per year, with 50% of a school’s total electricity cost being lighting. If every school in the UK implemented any type of energy efficient technology, over £100 million could be saved each year.
Harvey Sinclair, CEO of eEnergy, eLight’s parent company, said the figures demonstrate an uncomfortable truth for the education sector – namely that most schools are still treading water on the implementation of energy efficient technology. Energy efficiency could make a huge difference to meeting net zero ambitions, but most schools are still lagging behind.
“The solutions exist, but they are not being deployed fast enough," he said. "For example, we’ve made great progress in upgrading schools to energy-efficient LED lighting, but with 80% of schools yet to make the switch, there’s an enormous opportunity to make a collective reduction in carbon footprint and save a lot of money on energy bills. Our model means the entire project is financed, doesn’t require any upfront expenditure, and repayments are more than covered by the energy savings made."
He said while it has worked with over 300 schools, most are still far too slow to commit. "We are urging them to act with greater urgency because climate change won’t wait, and the need for action gets more pressing every year. The education sector has an important part to play in that and pupils around the country expect their schools to do so – there is still a huge job to be done."
North Yorkshire County Council is benefiting from the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, which has so far awarded nearly £1bn for energy efficiency and heat decarbonisation projects around the country, and Craven schools has reportedly made a successful £2m bid (click here).
The Department for Education has issued 13 tips for reducing energy and water use in schools.