Learning the Lessons of Energy Efficiency

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As most parents are giddily aware of, this week marks the annual migration back to school for children and teens across the US and Canada. For the next ten months, kids will be ensconced in their daily routines, busy learning how to grow up to become mostly coherent, socially acceptable adults. Parents left with a delightfully quiet house during the day are not the only ones who will experience a major change in energy levels.

Schools themselves, now filled to the brim with hyperactive bodies and inquiring young minds, will see their energy drain away. Just how much energy is used to keep our schools running? Even if you flunked out of math class, I’m sure you can still tell that $16 billion is a pretty hefty price tag for energy use in schools across the US and Canada.

Where does all this money go? Typically, the heating, cooling and lighting of a school take up about 70% of all its energy. So about $11.2 billion is spent each year to make schools the right temperature and brightness for kids to be comfortable and able to learn.

Although energy consumption only makes up between 2 and 4% of most school districts’ expenses, it seems like there are better things that hunk of cash could be spent on… like more teachers, more field trips, more sports, more computers. Basically, reducing energy costs by becoming more efficient could allow the education system to provide students with more… education.

Fortunately, I’m not the only person who has thought of this, and there are plenty of fantastic examples of schools that are ploughing ahead with major energy efficiency initiatives.

Evergreen Public Schools is the fifth largest school district in Washington, with over 26,000 students in 35 schools. They were so effective with their energy efficiency program, that they received recognition from Energy Star. They also saved $723,000 in just nine months, which is equal to the cost of supporting 14 teachers or 20 support staff members.

In Iowa, the Davenport Community School District was faced with a 50% increase in natural gas prices, a drop in government aid and falling enrolment numbers. Energy efficiency presented itself as the most logical way to cut costs in order to maintain key educational programs. Since the 2003/2004 school year, Davenport has saved $1.2 million from their energy efficiency efforts. According to their director of operations, “…if we had not done this, we would be facing major staff and program reductions… the $1.2 million in energy savings will fund 20 teaching positions.”

So the good news is that the ball is rolling for greater energy efficiency in schools. And more good news… increasing energy efficiency in schools, as in most other buildings, is actually pretty easy!

BC Hydro provides a list of quick fixes and longer-term solutions, specifically targeting the energy hogs of lighting, heating and cooling. The quick fixes include low-cost, easily implemented solutions such as HVAC retrofits, occupancy sensors for lighting, and active behavioural changes like turning off or unplugging things. These simple improvements can bring energy savings up to 25%.

There are also a myriad of different programs across the continent to help schools bring their energy consumption under control. Most of these programs work hard to include students and teachers in their initiatives, bringing everyone on board in the effort to reduce energy waste.

In the world these kids will have to live in, this could be the most valuable lesson they learn in school.

Graph courtesy of BC Hydro Power Smart

Article appearing courtesy Smartcool Energy Blog.

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