Becoming more environmentally sustainable is becoming increasingly important from a financial perspective as well as the right thing to do says Mark Stevenson, Director at Bright Spark Energy. 

School budgets are on everyone’s minds.  The recent energy price rises by the big six energy companies, up 12% in the last 18 months is adding to these concerns.  With budgets being squeezed, the pressure to find solutions that can help schools mitigate rising costs grows.    

 Small, proactive changes in energy usage can actually be a great way for schools to save money, while larger investments can be a vital part of a longer-term sustainability strategy.  Here I explore some important environmental changes, big and small, that schools can look at implementing, including how they would work within schools and the benefits that they bring.


Starting the journey

The first steps in becoming more sustainable is to understand how your schools are using energy now.  Using a minimum of 12 months of bills will identify when energy usage is high and what to focus on.  Some of the Schools we are working with have used this data in science and geography lessons, mapping the school data against temperature and weather trends.

 We see buildings as a type of eco system that many take for granted.  For example, when leaving the school on a winters evening, how many PCs are left on or lights have not been turned off do you walk past?  How many schools have no heating controls resulting in classrooms with radiators on and windows open?

 Once we have an idea about how energy is used the next step is to create an energy vision with a set of targets and get all involved, from the pupil in Reception class to the Chair of Governors.  Setting some tangible targets will enable all to celebrate success or learn from failure.


The smaller changes

 Small changes in energy usage made every day by everybody in the classroom can quickly add up and significantly reduce energy usage and make the biggest impact.  For example, if teachers turn off the lights, PCs and projectors in their classroom between lessons and at the end of the day, this can save up to 10% on electricity bills alone.  This small action can be turned into an activity for your pupils. Pupils could be assigned the role of ‘Energy Champions’ who have the responsibility to turn the lights off when classrooms are not used.  

 Another option is to get pupils to monitor the learning environment including heat and light as part of a lesson, enabling children to learn about science, finances and responsibility while also saving the school money!  The old myth of turning down the temperature in the classrooms a few degrees will save a lot over a long winter.


Larger investments

For schools that are thinking long-term, larger investments such as switching to renewable energy options can save the school money, generate a long term income while also providing other substantial benefits to the environment and the classroom!

 LED Lighting is often labelled ‘the future of lighting’, due to the very little energy it uses and its ability to last a very long time, not to mention the positive impact to the quality of teaching and learning spaces.  LED lighting uses up to 75% less energy and lasts up to 10x longer than traditional types of lighting whilst emitting less heat. Switching the lighting has obvious benefits in energy saving and maintenance costs with short payback periods.


Solar PV has been installed now on hundreds of schools and is a long term 20 year investment in reducing energy usage.  We have installed over 100 PV systems into a wide range of different Schools and the benefits are significant with every £1 invested into the PV netting a return of between £3 - £4 over 20 years.


FITs – Recently it has been announced that the 20 year Government subsidy (Feed-in tariff) is likely to end in March 2019.  We would recommend that Schools interested in Solar PV install their PV systems prior to March 2019 to guarantee a 20 year income stream.


The Government highlighted within a 2012 report the benefits that Solar PV can provide, including the ability to reduce Co2 emissions, reduce electricity bills and generate a long term financial surplus for schools once they have installed Solar PV systems.


One school that we worked closely with, Beccles Primary Academy, actually managed to use their solar energy to power lunches!  The Academy upgraded their kitchens to use Electric ovens and the electricity bills soared.  Our team designed a Solar installation to be the most efficient when the ovens were on so in theory the Solar panels are cooking the school dinners at the moment.  Installed in November 2017, the solar power has already generated 53% of the Academies’ electricity requirements onsite, reducing their reliance on grid bought electricity.  Overall the system will save the Academy over £150,000 over the next 20 years.

 Final thoughts

Small everyday steps can help schools to cut back on their expenditure and when used creatively they can be integrated into fun, educational activities for the classroom. Although the larger, longer term investments such as Solar PV may be costly to begin with, they can also bring great benefits to the school, to the bank balance and to the environment.


If you do want help on thinking about sustainability please get in contact.

0203 837 4957

Twitter: @BrightSparkEn