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Last days of the old boiler

A campaign being launched this spring aims to help schools significantly reduce their fuel bills. Stephen Hoare examines what's involved. Schools are among the most wasteful users of energy according to the Government's Energy Efficiency Office. Under local management, schools have an incentive to reduce overheads and direct as much money as possible into improving teaching. But most headteachers are not aware of the savings that can be made.

Matt Dickinson, project manager for the Building Research Energy Conservation Unit which runs the schools' best practice programme for the EEO says: "Our recent survey found that 86 per cent of heads and teachers thought energy efficiency should be given a higher priority, but only 40 per cent of schools monitor energy consumption and less than 20 per cent have a written energy policy with performance targets."

According to Mr Dickinson, there is a huge potential for energy saving among Britain's schools which currently spend around Pounds 400 million on heating and lighting each year. "I have seen many cases where schools which have followed our advice have been able to save 30-40 per cent on their energy costs and 10 per cent is quite possible in most schools," he claims.

BRECSU plans to launch a campaign aimed at heads and governors this spring, with a revamped information pack, which includes the latest feedback from case studies, plus an audio cassette. Both will be free. And Matt Dickinson reckons schools do not need to invest in new boilers, controls or insulation to start saving energy; much can be achieved through simple good housekeeping. "Did you know, for example, that just reducing temperature by one degree centigrade can save 10 per cent on heating costs using any fuel?" Mr Dickinson emphasises that a school's energy management policy should not result in poorly-lit or inadequately-heated classrooms. It's just that insufficient attention is given to setting thermostats and clock timers to ensure heating and lighting are switched off when they are not needed. He recommends that each school should appoint an energy manager, such as a volunteer from the senior management team or a governor, who can monitor the school's energy requirements and co-ordinate a policy to reduce waste.

BRECSU recommends a whole-school approach to energy saving, and cites the example of Parkside Middle School in Cullingworth, West Yorkshire, which recently saved 13 per cent of its fuel budget in one year. A survey by a governor and the caretaker found that a small gas boiler supplying hot water in summer could be switched off in the autumn when water and heating could be supplied more economically using one of the school's two main coal-fired boilers. Heating controls and time clocks were adjusted in school buildings and the independently-heated temporary classrooms and pupils were encouraged to switch lights off when they were not needed.

Parkside now has a teacher responsible for energy "housekeeping" and has introduced energy awareness into the curriculum. Involving pupils in learning about the use of fossil fuels will form a key part of BRECSU's campaign, which will receive government funding under Britain's commitment, made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by the year 2000 to 1990 levels.

Mr Dickinson says Parkside's success was "helped by a volunteer energy manager and by the support of the headteacher, staff and pupils." Now part of the school's energy savings of Pounds 1,500 is being re-invested in other energy-saving measures, including low-energy light fittings and occupancy sensors for the craft area and changing rooms where lights were frequently left on all day.

But the irregular use of buildings can limit a school's potential to make savings. One of the chief problems is setting controls to allow for long holiday periods and after-hours community use. Improvements in targeting energy will nearly always require some redesign of the heating and control system to allow certain rooms to be heated independently and for controls to be zoned.

BRECSU is working with local authority and private sector architects and engineers to produce a design guide for new school buildings and extensions. But this will not be much help for most schools built before energy efficiency was understood.

Victorian buildings, with their characteristic high ceilings, will always be expensive to heat, as will the system-built teaching blocks of the 1960s and 70s where vast areas of glazing cause overheating in summer and heat loss in winter. In such cases, major capital projects like double glazing, roof insulation and cavity-wall filling may well be the best solution, but all involve a long-term pay back.

Meanwhile, Matt Dickinson claims schools can save as much as 20 per cent of their heating bills by adopting a few simple, low-cost measures. These include draught sealing all doors and windows, locking high level windows so they cannot be opened and left ajar, fitting automatic closers to external doors and converting unnecessary doors into closed fire exits.

The heating system should be inspected and serviced regularly. Here, help is at hand in the form of service contracts from privatised utilities or private sector energy suppliers which often offer good deals in the hope of winning potentially lucrative long-term work. Released from the obligation to buy energy from the local gas or electricity board, schools can shop around for a better deal.

Jeff Spencer, marketing director for Total Gas says: "From being one of the main suppliers of North Sea gas to British Gas, we have been selling direct to large customers since 1991." Schools which use more than Pounds 1,100 worth of gas a year can negotiate a private supply contract and now Total is offering maintenance packages, energy audits and even building services contracting - all functions that would at one time have been carried out by the local education authority.

"We find schools like one number to ring to cover all services, from broken pumps and air conditioning to swimming pools." says Mr Spencer.

Introduction to Energy Efficiency in Schools, published by the Department of the Environment, Energy Efficiency office, is available from BRECSU, Garston, Watford, WD2 7JR. Telephone help line O1923 664258.Fax O1923 664787.E-mail

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