Energetic pursuit of economy

1st March 1996 at 00:00
Elaine Williams suggests ways in which fuel conservation can easily become a cost-cutting element of school practice as well as a core part of the curriculum. Schools spend three times more on energy than books but most of them were not designed with fuel efficiency in mind. Tall Victorian draughty barns or low-rise Sixties and Seventies plate glass present seemingly intractable problems and it is not too surprising to learn that 86 per cent of heads think energy conservation should be given a higher priority.

The figure was revealed in a recent survey by the Building Research Energy Conservation Support Unit. But Matt Dickinson of BRECSU says that only 40 per cent of schools actually monitor energy consumption and fewer than 20 per cent have an energy policy with performance targets.

This will probably change as schools have to find every way possible to trim their budgets, and monitoring the purchase and wise use of energy is being added to the growing list of governors' duties.

Many of the organisations on hand to advise schools on energy conservation, of which BRECSU is one, will say that energy efficiency does not imply drastic or radical changes. Schools can take simple steps to cut the fuel bill and spare the environment - and pupils can play a leading role in energy management, too.

The Centre for Research, Education and Training in Energy (CREATE) says that a school can save about 10 per cent of its energy bill with little or no capital expenditure, without reductions in the range of facilities or levels of comfort, and that cash savings from improved management can be identified within six months. If some of these savings are then invested in energy efficiency, the longer-term budgetary benefits are even larger. Schools can follow some basic tips (see panel), and contribute to significant savings if closely monitored.

This is where pupils can play a central role and where energy conservation can be tied into the curriculum. BRECSU, which runs the Energy Efficiency Best Practice programme for schools for the Department of the Environment, is releasing a Building Energy Efficiency In Schools booklet which includes feedback from case studies, technical and educational advice.

St Andrews and St Marks Junior School, Surbiton, which is featured in the booklet, achieved a 34 per cent reduction in energy consumption and a 22 per cent reduction in cost between 199091 and 199293 through the "whole-school approach" recommended by BRECSU.

A policy statement and action plan were drawn up; the headteacher and caretaker underwent training; staff and pupils were involved and the issue was tied into the curriculum. The school invested in energy-saving measures with short pay-backs.

With the help of pupils and through outside support the school identified problems such as heating and hot water system timings inappropriate for efficient use of resources, particularly for school lettings in the evening; unneeded lighting left on for long periods; continuous water flushing in urinals; heat loss through ill-fitting exterior doors; location of heating thermostats producing incorrect messages to the main system and inefficient lighting in the main hall.

In response to these the school installed low-energy, high-efficiency bulbs in the hall; flow control devices were fitted to all toilets; draught excluders were fitted on exterior doors; boiler timings were changed to effect maximum savings while still ensuring sufficient heating; the thermostat was moved upstairs and energy monitors were appointed among pupils to ensure lights were switched off when not in use.

A secondary school head working with BRECSU says: "The Pounds 21,000 energy savings we have made in two years means an extra colleague, a lower contact ratio and fewer cover periods."

Peter Capener, from the Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) in Bristol, which contributed to the booklet, believes that pupils must be involved in raising energy-efficiency awareness in schools. He suggests that schools consider setting up after-school clubs on energy and environmental issues, and that pupils are appointed to energy teams (E-teams) responsible for keeping the issue alive.

He also advises that schools reserve a noticeboard for information about energy consumption. He says primary schools tend to work on projects in short bursts, but energy could easily be tackled as a long-term cross-curricular issue.

"There are lots of creative ways you can return to energy use through a range of different topics," he says. In history, for example, it would be possible to look at Roman heating systems and compare their efficiency with present-day installations. Schools could rotate their science projects in such a way that there would always be one group looking at energy, therefore keeping the subject on the boil.

Initially students can study their immediate working environment - is it too hot, cold, draughty, light or dark? These are things all students are familiar with and can understand. They can then examine the energy implications at different levels in line with key stages. They can broaden it out to survey the whole school, or even their own homes.

Peter Capener says there are two distinct areas suitable for pupil involvement. Initially they can look at aspects directly within their control as building users - observing heating, lighting, doors, windows and coming up with efficiency recommendations.

Then they can look at problems requiring investment and therefore directly outside their control, for example the draught-proofing of a door causing a particular cold spot in school. Pupils can contact manufacturers, find out the cost of materials and present a case to governors.

"The important educational thing," he says, "is for them to identify the nature of the problem, find out who they need to inform and how they need to do it. Energy efficiency obviously has a clear science and geography base, but pupils also use a lot of core skills in the presentation: English, maths, data handling and oral skills all come into it."

Groundwork is an organisation which runs the Esso Young Energy Savers programme in which 230 schools participated last year. Groundwork provides guides who visit schools and train teachers in the educational implications of energy efficiency.

They help to create an energy map of the school. By taking regular meter and temperature readings around the school, pupils can begin to see how the institution works as an energy user and compare consumption from one year to the next.

Dave Bettis, Groundwork's national educational programmes co-ordinator, says the aim is to get recommendations from youngsters through to governors and to raise their general awareness. "We want children going out of school with a better understanding of how their personal activities affect the environment. They have to understand that every time they switch on the lights they are the cause for concern, not somebody else."

* BRECSU, Bucknalls Lane, Garston Watford WD2 7JRTel: 01923 664258.

* CSE, B-Bond Warehouse, Smeaton Road, Bristol BS1 6XNTel: 0117 929 9950 * CREATE free enquiry service for pupils, teachers and managers. CREATE, Kenley House, 25 Bridgeman Terrace, Wigan WN1 1TD Tel: 01942 322271 * Eco-Schools is run by theTidy Britain Group, a national initiative to develop environmental policy in schools. Eco-Schools, Wigan Pier, Wigan WN3 4EXTel: 01942 824620 * Groundwork runs Esso Young Energy Savers Programme for key stage 2. Groundwork, 85-87 Cornwall Street, Birmingham B3 3BY.Tel: 0121 236 8565 Visitors to the Education Showcan meet representatives of the above organisations on Stand H66

EASY TIPS for saving energy

* Reduce the temperature byone degree and save 10 per cent on heating costs using any fuel * Lock high windows so they cannot be opened and left ajar * Draught-seal all doors * Fit automatic closers toexternal doors * Convert unnecessary doors into closed fire exits * Inspect and service the heating system regularly * Turn lights off in empty rooms * Install low-energy light fittings * Ensure windows are clean and do not use lights near them * Check thermostats and timersto ensure heating and lighting are switched off when they arenot needed.

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