If every school in the UK converted to eco-friendly technology, one coal-fired power station could be switched off forever. That is the incentive but, sadly, the reality is quite different.
Schools represent around 15 per cent of public sector greenhouse gas emissions and 2 per cent of the UK total. This amounts to five million tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year from gas and electricity used in schools. Another five million tonnes is attributed to activities such as transport to and from school and the manufacture of school equipment.
One of the largest and fastest-growing contributors to this energy consumption is technology. The Government acknowledges that computer equipment not only uses electricity directly, but also places further demands through the need for lighting and cooling. However, it is loathe to reduce access to technology. Instead, it announced earlier this month that it would make pound;375 million available for schools to invest in energy-saving technology.
One school that is already taking its eco-friendly responsibilities seriously is Helston Community College in Cornwall, which has just rigged up an eight-metre wind turbine next to the school. It hopes the turbine will power lab equipment and computers at the school, including an RM ecoquiet PC, which uses two-thirds less energy than a standard desktop PC.
"We'll use it to generate electricity, but also as a learning and research resource that we can use across the curriculum," says Roger McMinn, head of key stage 4 science. "It's important that science is brought to life with projects such as this, and that pupils become aware of different ways to save energy."
All the data will be collected and analysed by the students and made available on the schools bespoke website, www.surfingthewindyweb.co.uk.
It is exactly the sort of initiative the Government is desperate to encourage as part of its newly announced Climate Change Bill, but it will also raise standards and ensure that the next generation is more environmentally friendly and aware than its predecessors
How to become a sustainable school
Upgrade heating controls: reducing the temperature within a building by 1 degree Celsius will save 5-10 per cent of the heating bill
Use energy-efficient lighting: lighting accounts for half the electricity used in schools
Install smart metering: so that you know how much energy is used
Practise water economy: conservation devices can halve water consumption in school
Insulate hot water pipes: keep runs of pipework short and lag pipes properly
Fit draught strips on windows and doors: one of the most effective ways of saving money
Check for and repair water leaks: local water companies should have a free leak detection service
Understand your bill: using off-peak electricity can save money
The ecoquiet PC uses a third less power than the standard computer and produces only 26 decibels of noise, according to RM, the educational computer company that developed the device.
Prices for the fully configurable PCs startat pound;297. The average secondary school has 220 PCs for educational use. Based on this, and the assumption that they would be used for eight hours a day, 39 weeks a year, a school would save pound;18,261 and 173,917 KWh over five years.
Diana Keating, head of St John's C of E Infants in Chatham, Kent, has been trialling the PCs. "If you asked teachers what causes them the most stress in the classroom, high on the list would be noise. It is therefore a real luxury to not have the usual din of a busy classroom made worse by the background hum of desktop PCs. When you add to this the potential savings on our energy bill, and the peace of mind that we are doing our bit for the environment, it really is a win-win-win situation."