Electricity is the second largest expense of schools in the US2, outweighed only by teachers’ salaries. In the UK, state-funded schools collectively require about £584 million to pay for electricity and gas. In less developed countries, some schools cannot always afford to keep their lights on during learning hours1. These figures all add up to a need to save electricity at school.
Beyond the cost implications, our electricity use is fueling climate change. Today, the majority of the fuel used to produce our electricity comes from non-renewable sources harmful to the environment. Largely because the production of non-renewable (fossil-fueled) electricity contributes to the emission of Green House Gases (GHGs). These include CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor, chlorofluorocarbon, among others.
In 2018, the amount of CO2 (a GHG) emissions increased by 1.9%4. Only two regions in the world did not significantly contribute to this rise; Europe and Latin America. The presence of these gases in our atmosphere should not be a cause for concern. However, the growing excess of GHGs is producing a worldwide heat-trapping effect. They interfere with the earth’s temperature and interrupt natural events such as weather and climate. This is what we know as global warming.
As the impact of global warming increases, we may have no choice but to consume more electricity to make up for the discomfort. For example, CO2 emissions in the US grew by 3.1% in 2018. The reason? America needs to cope with unstable weather conditions through heating and cooling.
The solution to these growing problems starts with how each person uses electricity. In the school environment, this includes students, teachers, administrators, cooks, and other non-academic staff. Your electricity habits contribute to how big or small your school’s energy bill becomes. Those habits will also determine the carbon impact of your school on the environment.
The long-term goal should be to remove our dependence on fossil fuel and make the switch to renewable energy sources. These are energy sources that cannot be diminished (such as solar) or are replenishable on a human timescale (such as biomass). Learn about the different types of renewable energy here.
Renewable energy sources contribute little to no GHG emissions during production and consumption. This makes them largely safe for the environment. Encouraging your school to go solar amongst other sustainable energy pivots will represent steps in the right direction.
Ready to lead the change? Here are 7 things you can do differently to start saving electricity at school. Don’t forget to encourage others - close friends, students, and staff - to join in.
While lightbulbs don’t seem like a big deal, they could be contributing a big chunk of your school’s energy bill. The average cost to power one light bulb non-stop for a year is $96.39. Now think of how many lightbulbs are in your school. You probably can’t even count them.
An easy first step is to turn off light bulbs when not in use. Also, encourage your school to invest in energy-saving light bulbs. The EPA recommends halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These bulbs use between 70-90% less energy than the generic options.
Keep in mind that these bulbs cost a bit more to purchase, so you may have to do some convincing if your school is still using older bulbs. They, however, pay off those costs because they last a lot longer than regular bulbs. They are energy-efficient and will consume less electricity, saving your school even more money.
We often leave many devices including computers, projectors, and more on standby mode. Considering the number of devices installed in each school, their electricity use could easily add up to a heavy cost.
To put this method into practice, ask students to switch off devices after each use. Even if another class will be using them afterward. Regular practice will make the process a habit for everyone. As a teacher or administrator, this simple policy can change how your students manage electricity.
Before the weekend or long holidays, it’s important to confirm that all appliances have been switched off. With this practice, your school can readily reduce electricity costs over the break.
Cooling and heating systems work more efficiently when they are in their best condition. They also consume less energy. Your systems need to be serviced regularly to keep them at optimal performance. If a system is not working properly, the room occupants could be turning up the dial frequently, trying to get to the right temperature. In turn, heating or cooling systems that are not working at their best consume more energy to achieve the same result.
Issues such as air leaks, faulty ducts, and faulty filters will cost a significant amount over time. Probably more than would be needed to fix the issue. Also, an outdated heating or cooling system could be increasing your electricity bill. If you’re in administration, ensure that all systems are appropriate for the spaces where they are installed.
If you’re a teacher, build your student's interest in energy-saving using class projects. The best way for young people to understand the benefits of the instructions you give is to see the results in action.
For example, you could give them a list of energy-saving guidelines and tell them that following each of these points will help the school. Or you can make it a fun project for them by assigning meter monitoring duties. Each student will be given a day or period when they have to monitor the school’s meter stats and note the figures. Your results will inform the class how much difference the new energy-saving efforts have made.
Not only will your students feel more empowered by sharing in the responsibility for reducing the school’s energy, but they could also start asking other students to become energy conscious. The more people who participate, the bigger your results! You can also create individual or group projects which will encourage them to learn more about energy use.
Learning environments are fast-paced, so it can be easy for people to forget certain tasks. Such as switching off lights before moving to the next class. This is where timers and other energy-saving devices are helpful. They can be programmed to shut down any connected device after a while.
There are manual timers that are used for portable devices such as lamps. There are also digital timers used for fixtures such as outdoor lighting. Your school’s choice could be a mix of these options for different devices. The benefits of timers are not just limited to lighting. They could be used for other devices such as projectors.
Energy-saving devices may cost a chunk up-front, but they will make up for this cost over time. Once the initial expense is balanced out, your energy-saving device will also save your school some money.
Skylights are used to harness natural light and heat within a building. They are open roof portions covered with glass panels, usually for large spaces. There are many areas in schools where students gather, requiring electric lighting. Some examples are hallways, the school cafeteria, and the gym. Where feasible, the lightbulbs in these areas can be replaced with skylights.
School hours fall within day hours, so your skylights should efficiently provide light for a majority of the time. During dark periods due to climate and weather, artificial lights become an essential backup. Skylights will require construction work, so they are not an immediate solution. You can encourage your school board to include skylights in any works seeking structural improvements. Or in extensions or new buildings.
One person cannot achieve significant results from saving electricity alone. The same goes for saving electricity within your community. Change can start at your school, but, of course, we shouldn't have to limit the electricity benefits to one institution. Or one method. While you encourage your kids to make changes to their electricity use, you can take the lessons a step further. Teach them about renewable energy, which consists of alternative energy sources.
Teaching renewable energy to kids will give them better insight into the harmful impact of non-renewable energy. This will further emphasize their need to save electricity. Teaching them about renewable energy could also motivate them to actively seek change. Think of exemplars like Greta Thunberg who are lending their voices to the climate change fight.
As students gain a better understanding of energy use, they take these lessons home. The ultimate goal of teaching children is to ensure they contribute positively to their society. Research shows that when children are concerned about climate change, they could inspire the adults in their lives to also understand climate concerns3. In some cases, these adults become inspired to take action. This impact could bring the collective action which we need to reduce our contributions to climate change.
We can use less electricity to achieve the same job done. Making the effort will not only reduce the electricity bills coming into schools. We can also significantly reduce each school’s carbon footprint. Change comes from consistent, collective effort. We can all start contributing to this much-needed change today.
|UNDESA, 2014. Electricity and education: The benefits, barriers, and recommendations for achieving the electrification of primary and secondary schools|
|ConservationWise from Xcel Energy: Managing energy costs in schools. A guide to energy conservation and savings for K-12 schools.|
|Children can foster climate change concern among their parents. Danielle F. Lawson, Kathryn T. Stevenson, M. Nils Peterson, Sarah J. Carrier, Renee L. Strnad & Erin Seekamp. Nature Climate Changevolume 9, pages458–462 (2019)|
|Enerdata, 2019: Global Energy Statistical Yearbook 2019|