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Energy Efficiency Best Practices: A Guide for Schools

Energy efficient campuses can transform your school. After all, sustainability isn’t only about the environment. It has a vital impact on communities as well, which is why many definitions of sustainability include economic and social benefits.

Schools are in a unique position to enjoy these benefits. Energy efficient campuses use more than 20% less energy than other campuses. This means they’re using less oil, coal and fossil fuels. Reducing your campus’ energy consumption will help to reduce air pollution and solid waste.

You can have an even bigger impact if you consider alternative fuel options. Here in Pennsylvania, we offer clean energy and fuel solutions for your campus. Solar power, natural gas and ethanol are all cleaner options for your energy needs.

Energy efficient campuses bring economic benefits as well. Many schools think of their utility bills as a set cost. But you can reduce this cost by improving your energy efficiency and customizing your utility plan. When your lighting and equipment last longer, you’ll also save on replacements.

Improved air quality and better lighting help lead to better student learning. It also lowers the rates of asthma and school absences. Many energy efficient campuses have better air quality and lighting than other schools.

Energy efficient campuses also have a unique opportunity to teach students about sustainability. An energy efficient campus can become a learning lab for students. And students who learn about energy efficiency in the classroom often bring their knowledge home.

Campus energy efficiency has many benefits, but transforming a campus requires good planning. This guide will walk you through how to transform your campus into an energy efficient school.

Step 1: Identify your School’s Energy-efficiency Team

Establishing an energy-efficient school campus is hard. Cash-strapped campuses don’t have the funding for expensive equipment upgrades. Getting teachers, students, and administrators on the same page takes time and energy, so it’s no surprise that many schools struggle to put energy efficiency tools in place.

That’s why a good team is critical to your success. The team’s primary job is to build awareness of energy efficiency. Your team might also brainstorm energy saving ideas for schools, hold fundraisers and wrangle support from the community.

This team can educate people about energy waste and teach students about energy saving tips for universities and schools. People who know how energy is used – and wasted – change simple behaviors. Turning off lights and powering down computers are some of the most effective energy-saving tips for schools. Many energy efficiency ideas begin with an awareness of where we waste energy.

Behavior-based strategies are key for any successful energy-efficiency program. They have an impact, too. Some schools reduced their energy consumption by 20 to 37 percent by changing behaviors.

A successful team should be able to build awareness at many different levels on a campus. That’s why the most successful teams represent a wide variety of campus groups. Include teachers, students and administrative staff. Don’t forget cleaning crews, landscapers, building operations staff and local sustainability non-profits.

These groups have a unique perspective on where energy gets wasted in schools. One study found that every successful energy efficiency program included the janitorial staff. The reason? Janitorial staff are often the last ones on campus. They turn off any lights left on.

Consider how these campus groups can help with an energy efficiency campaign:

  • Principal
  • School administrators
  • Building operations staff
  • IT staff
  • School district
  • Local sustainability non-profits
  • Local utility companies
  • Teachers
  • Students
  • Parents

Get Support from the School’s Principal or President

The principal or president’s support is essential. Having the principal endorse your plan raises its profile and signals to others that the school is united. Clarify their role. Can they work with the school district? Speak at a festival or earth day event? Will they be involved in day-to-day implementation?

Build Support at Several Levels

School energy efficiency works best if everyone commits to the project. Your team should look for ways to get the whole school on board. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can teachers include energy efficiency in their lesson plans?
  • Can students get real-world science experience by calculating energy loss in classrooms?
  • Can your school district provide feedback on what’s working?
  • Is there an administrator or parent interested in planning a festival or fundraiser?

Get the whole community involved and encourage them to be enthusiastic.

Step 2: Create a Baseline for Campus Energy Use

How do you know how far you’ve come if you don’t know where you started? A campus’ baseline for energy use is your starting point. Your baseline consists of how much energy a campus normally uses. You will need to know the baseline energy consumption to determine how much energy different strategies save.

Many schools choose between benchmarking and an engineering audit to find baseline energy use. Benchmarking is less precise, but easier and more cost effective. An engineering audit can run up to $50,000. Benchmarking your baseline usually costs between $500 and $1,000.

Before deciding on a strategy, contact your utility company. Many utility companies can remotely track a building’s energy use. Here at Shipley Energy, we offer our customers a free Power Scan. This extra monitoring can help pinpoint when and why your energy use peaks. This will help you determine energy-efficiency strategies that suit your school.

You can create a simple baseline of your campus energy use with only a few pieces of information. You will need to know:

  • Total building energy consumption over the previous 12 months
  • Total amount of purchased energy
  • Total amount of solar/clean energy
  • Gross square footage of buildings

Your baseline energy use is the average amount of power used on the campus, per square foot per month. You will use the average because energy needs vary with the season. Energy use is usually lower when classes are out in the summer. In cold climates, natural gas use typically spikes.

Many schools include other information when establishing their baseline energy use. Some schools exclude energy produced from solar panels on campus. They use only grid-produced energy in their calculations. Other schools single out buildings with high-energy demands. On a university campus, certain labs demand different energy-efficiency strategies.

Don’t forget to include school buses and transportation in your benchmarking exercise. The average school bus uses 1,714 gallons of fuel. It costs $6,634 to run a school bus for one year. Your fleet is a costly part of your school’s energy use.

Although school buses reduce the number of cars on the road, they produce many greenhouse gases. Since most buses get only 7 miles to the gallon, it pays to pay attention to your fuel source. As part of your campus’ energy improvement, you may consider switching to clean natural gas or even ethanol.

Looking for More Tools?

1. The Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) tracks energy efficiency for schools. STARS includes ideas for measuring sustainability literacy, clean transportation options and sustainable investments. Their explanation of how to benchmark energy use is exceptional.

Users like the ease of measuring their energy use, and having a standardized way to compare it to that of other campuses. Another benefit is being part of a vibrant community of colleges and universities with whom you can share ideas. This will allow you to find additional energy-efficiency tips for higher education.

2. Energy Star’s Energy Portfolio Manager is a comprehensive baseline and benchmarking tool. You may already have access to it through your school district. The portfolio manager can be configured for K-12 schools.

Users like the ease of entering data, and the fact that Portfolio Manager calculates energy use for them. You can easily compare your building’s energy use with other schools. If you plan to seek Energy Star certification for your school, this tool is your best choice.

3. Free Building Benchmarks is a useful site for comparing energy use in schools. You can compare your campus with schools of similar square footage in the same region. You can also compare your school to others built at the same time. Data comes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey.

If you’d like to get a sense of where your campus stacks up against its peers, this site is an excellent resource. Their energy consumption breakdown is particularly useful. It shows how much energy the average similar school uses for lighting, heating or office equipment.

Step 3: Create Your Plan to Improve Energy Efficiency

At this point, you should know how much energy your campus uses and where it’s used. Now you’re ready to start trying energy efficiency improvements.

Most schools, whether K-12 or higher education, develop a written plan. Some plans are incredibly detailed. Others are little more than a list of energy efficiency ideas the campus will try. You can get started with this list of school energy saving ideas.

A good plan should explain where you’re starting from (your baseline) and how you plan to reduce your energy use. It should also explain how you’ll determine whether a technique is working. You can discover more about the best practices for measuring energy consumption in the next step.

A written plan has several benefits. This plan will help you make your case if you plan to ask for funding for new equipment. It can help keep different groups informed. It can explain – to students or staff who weren’t involved in the planning – what to measure, and how to measure.

Focus on high energy intensity areas

In most Pennsylvania schools, lighting and ventilation use the most energy. In fact, two thirds of all electricity used goes to these two items. You may have found other areas while you were creating your energy baseline. Both STARS and Energy Star’s Portfolio Manager highlight high-intensity areas. Finally, your utility company may be able to help you identify other high-use areas.

Involve students in the planning process

Creating a school energy efficiency plan can also be a learning exercise for students. Students will get valuable real-world experience. For instance, students in a mathematics course can learn about calculating energy savings. Students in a mechanical course may want to learn about air conditioning systems.

An enthusiastic class or student group can also benefit the campus. You’ll gain valuable input and begin to teach energy efficiency in the school.

Include your stakeholders

Stakeholders are any group of people who have an interest in your project. Campuses are more likely to reduce their energy use if many different groups are involved.

Because each group interacts with the campus differently, they’ll each bring different ideas. For instance, your IT staff may have ideas about how to reduce energy in a computer lab. A cleaning crew can identify areas where lights and electricity are left on after classes. Maintenance staff may be able to find and fix drafty areas.

Step 4: Measure Your Progress

Now that you have your plan, you’ll need to measure how well you’re progressing. Here’s where your baseline measurements are particularly important. Energy efficiency is hard to identify. After all, what you’re measuring is the lack of energy – how much energy you’ve saved.

To find out how much energy you’re saving, you’ll compare your current energy use to your previous energy use. If you’ve averaged energy use throughout the school year, you’ll use this figure. You may want to compare your electricity use by month. If the campus uses lots of heat in November, you might want to compare energy use to the previous November instead of comparing it to an average.

The Three Cs of Measuring Energy Efficiency

Measuring energy use can get complicated, but there are ways to simplify it. The Clean Energy Ministerial suggests that schools focus on certainty, credibility and consistency.

  • Certainty: Be clear about what you’re measuring. Are you measuring energy consumption? Amount of energy saved? Or percentage of energy from clean sources? Defining what you’re measuring ahead of time will save you trouble down the road.
  • Credibility: Make sure the savings you report are close to the actual savings. The precise number is less important than making sure you’re accurate about your measurements. Be careful not to claim more energy savings than you’ve actually achieved. This can cause you to spend more on energy than you need, and may cause you to spend more on energy-efficiency strategies than necessary.
  • Consistency: Measuring your progress requires you to take repeated measurements of your energy use. Be sure that everybody who measures energy uses the same methods and approach. Someone else should be able to replicate your measurements and get similar results.

Why are measurements important?

Measurements can help you decide what energy efficiency ideas to try. Consistent measurements can help you determine where electricity is going. They let you know what’s working and what’s not. This allows you to choose the most cost-effective ways to reduce your school’s energy use.

Measurements are an easy and unbiased way to explain what’s working to stakeholders. Knowing about their success can build support and enthusiasm in the school.

Step 5: Celebrate Your Success

Many schools approach their sustainability plan as they would an event. It starts off on a good note. Faculty and staff are enthusiastic, and students have great ideas. But energy efficiency is a process, not a one-time event.

That’s why regularly recognizing everybody’s effort is essential. Over the course of a school year, attention will wane. Celebrations and rewards are a way to rebuild the campus’ initial enthusiasm.

Contests and competitions are particularly effective in K-12 schools. Award a prize to classrooms that achieve certain energy goals.

Competitions are more difficult to pull off on a university campus, but they’re a possibility. Gear your competitions toward dormitories, where floors or halls can compete against each other.

Rewards are particularly effective when encouraging groups to adopt energy-efficiency habits. For instance, a competition can help classes remember to turn off lights. The school can encourage this habit by awarding classrooms a “sustainability star.”

You may also consider holding a school festival to raise awareness. These events educate the community, celebrate success and recognize people for their efforts. Earth Day celebrations are a prime example of popular sustainability-themed events on which you can piggyback. Consider science fairs, career fairs, farmers markets or healthy-eating expos as well.

Create a Customized Commercial Energy Strategy With Shipley Energy

Once you’ve thought about your school’s energy efficiency and areas you can improve, the commercial energy specialists at Shipley Energy can help you create an effective strategy while focusing on your budget. Contact us today to get started!

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