This article originally appeared in EIBI (Energy In Buildings and Industry)

The same problems keep getting in the way of driving down emissions in the education sector. Yet these barriers shouldn’t be seen as insurmountable, advises Kevin Cox, Managing Director of Energys Group.

The combination of squeezed budgets and pressure to cut CO2 emissions in the education sector means that there can be no more excuses: energy savings must be found. Many of the barriers to carbon reduction that this sector faces are very real. But the evolving low-carbon sector is increasingly offering solutions to these barriers – provided staff are armed with the right knowledge.

Barrier #1: Lack of knowledge

Indeed, lack of knowledge is perhaps the most common barrier to the creation of more efficient school building stock. In a technology-led arena, much of the information on offer can be confusing for laypeople – especially in light of pervasive ‘greenwash’.

This confusion means that it is all the more advisable to opt for the ‘low-hanging fruit’ of carbon reduction. High-profile ‘eco-bling’, such as solar PV panels, may be an exciting prospect, but many schools already waste more energy than they would hope to generate through solar power. Targeting areas of energy waste – such as outdated lighting, inefficient boilers, uninsulated plant room equipment – typically delivers far more substantial carbon savings than on-site renewables.

Barrier #2: Aversion to risk

Even knowledgeable site managers may meet resistance from head teachers, governors or board members who are not convinced of the benefits of energy-saving technology or carbon reduction in general. For many schools and colleges, a risk-averse, ‘do nothing’ approach may seem prudent. However, this inertia is costly – and it ignores the rising cost of energy, which will only continue to erode funds.

If aversion to risk is the problem, it is wise to opt for proven technologies that have already been seen to cut energy use in similar applications. Technologies that achieve rapid payback are likely to be more palatable to the risk-averse. And dealing with well-established suppliers that provide lengthy warranties can ensure peace of mind.

Barrier #3: Lack of funding

‘No money in the pot’ may be the most insurmountable barrier to installing energy-saving equipment. Indeed, with budgets stretched and Salix’s government-backed financing reduced in scope, it can feel like there’s simply no way to fund projects.

However, the rapid payback periods of many energy-efficient technologies are increasingly making it easier to access alternative types of funding. Many schools and universities are turning to leasing arrangements. Under a leasing arrangement, the customer ‘rents’ the new energy-saving equipment from the provider, meaning the lease can be treated as ‘off balance sheet’, rather than a form of purchase.

Since the installation of energy-efficient technology unlocks instant savings on both energy bills and also maintenance costs, a lease arrangement on low-energy lighting or boiler controls can be structured to be cash-positive. Right from day one, the monthly payments on the lease are completely covered by the financial savings that result from lower bills. The remaining savings go straight to the school.

Energys Group has found that leasing arrangements are particularly suitable for schools, and it has been able to provide financing to numerous schools in a partnership with schools’ lending specialist Utility Rentals.

Barrier #4: Disruption to teaching

Carbon reduction may be a priority, but keeping classrooms, libraries and sports halls open is of far greater importance. It’s impossible to shut facilities during a lengthy or invasive installation of equipment, even if energy savings are on offer.

For this reason, the education sector tends to favour retrofit technologies. Solutions such as the Save It Easy range from Energys Group, which allows both T5 and LED lighting to be slotted into the existing light fittings, can be installed in a fraction of the time (usually outside of working hours) and with far less disruption. Many educational premises also favour energy-saving works that don’t require access to classrooms or student areas, such as boiler controls and plant room insulation.

Hundreds of schools have pursued this route including one in Plymouth which has had particular success by opting for boiler controls. St Edward’s Church of England Primary School installed Boiler Optimisers from Energys and achieved proven energy savings of 18% – all while bypassing concerns about disruption.

Barrier #5: Lack of support

The final barrier is often a simple issue of time. Many schools lack the staff resources to manage a carbon-reduction project. The task of filling in paperwork (for funding) and co-ordinating works can often be overwhelming.

However, many local authorities now have specialist carbon-reduction teams which can support schools. Some of these teams have even partnered with trusted suppliers to provide turnkey solutions. In general, turnkey solutions – where supply, fit, financing and maintenance of the new lighting or boiler controls is provided in a single package – can ease the strain of the energy-saving process.

Energys Group is currently working in partnership with West Sussex County Council, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and Hertfordshire County Council amongst others, helping to create a smooth low-carbon transition for the local authorities’ schools.

Overcoming the barriers to carbon reduction is often a case of knowing where to look for support and finding the right technologies for a particular campus’s needs. Indeed, what may initially seem like an insurmountable barrier can actually be taken care of relatively easily.


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