At a time when the education sector is facing rising costs, schools and colleges are increasingly looking to identify effective strategies to make savings. Reducing energy consumption is a key way to minimise monetary spend, environmental impact and improve the learning environment.
This is particularly relevant to schools in the SEND sector, as SEND schools tend to be highly energy intensive. SEND schools have teaching strategies and equipment tailored to accommodate pupils’ needs. They usually a have higher recommended temperature than other schools, and a range of specialised equipment such as swimming pools, sensory rooms and medical apparatus. These factors mean SEND schools typically have a higher energy usage and energy spend than other schools. Having an elevated spend brings opportunities to significantly reduce it through the installation of energy efficient technologies.
Addressing energy holistically, looking at the entire energy management picture as a whole can be the most effective approach to maximise energy and carbon savings.
Holistic projects involve the installation of a wide range of energy efficiency technologies, as well as the adoption of behavioural changes to streamline energy usage. Many schools begin addressing their energy usage by installing LED lighting. While this is an excellent technology to begin improving energy efficiency, combining LED lighting with other technologies will help maximise energy savings.
A school taking a holistic approach might also consider whether they could install lighting sensors, energy management systems, new insulation, boilers, and solar PV within the same project. This approach helps to reduce energy consumption to the lowest possible level, minimising a school’s carbon footprint while significantly improving their learning environment. With a holistic approach, schools can observe a greater reduction in their energy use and subsequent energy bills compared to a single technology approach.
In addition to installing new technologies, energy waste can also be reduced by updating energy control systems. Implementing smarter monitoring of energy usage allows for more precise control and helps identify where energy is lost, giving schools the ability to quickly and easily adjust their energy systems to adapt to their needs and the external environment in real-time.
By combining projects together and installing them all at once, schools can also save money on design, installation and labour costs. Schools will also minimise disruption on site, which is particularly important for pupils with special education needs.
Financial barriers can prevent educators from implementing such wide scale holistic projects but working with funding providers like Salix can alleviate many of these obstacles. Over the past fourteen years, Salix has provided more than £1.4 million of financing to SEND schools across the country enabling them to implement a range of energy efficiency projects.
A great example is Dryden secondary school in Gateshead. The school, which has 52 students aged between 11-19, caters to pupils with Learning Difficulties. Many of the pupils at Dryden also have associated physical, sensory and communication difficulties including autistic spectrum conditions. With a hydrotherapy pool and a range of other equipment to cater to SEND students, Dryden is a high energy user and wanted to reduce its energy consumption and energy bills without affecting the quality of education and care it provides. It was important to Dryden that a comfortable and safe environment for the pupils is also maintained.
A Salix 100% interest-free loan of £77,965 offered Dryden School the initial capital finance they needed to invest in multiple energy reduction projects. They installed LED lighting upgrades, pipework insulation, Building Energy Management System (BEMS) improvements and draught proofing, as well as new and reconfigured air handling units and controls.
These projects have reduced the school’s energy consumption by approximately 40%, resulting in £17,813 of savings to their annual energy costs – the equivalent to more than £342 per pupil. As well as reduced energy bills, the upgrades will also lower general maintenance costs.
In total, the improvements are expected to save the school around £241,800 on their energy bills, reduce its energy consumption by 1,152 tonnes of CO2. The interest-free loan will be paid back from savings on the school’s energy bills, meaning the project is cost neutral to the school.
To maximise the benefits of holistic projects, staff and students are encouraged to take an active role in reducing their consumption by making small behavioural changes. Establishing environmental awareness clubs, providing training to identify energy saving opportunities and running campaigns to switch off lights are all effective methods of instigating these changes. Due to the variation in learning methods of pupils in SEND schools, behavioural change initiatives can be tailored to suit their individual needs.
In Dryden’s case, the school relates activities that pupils participate in to energy efficiency. This helps to raise awareness about energy and the environment within the student and staff bodies. Students are involved in ‘switch off campaigns’ to encourage energy conservation; learn about the natural environment in their curriculum; and hear about eco-actions in assemblies.
Applying a holistic approach to energy management can not only help in setting realistic goals and achieving clear results, but it can also inspire a campus-wide culture of energy saving which is important to the success of energy management.