Energy efficiency programs in K-12 schools

Energy Efficiency Programs in K-12 Schools: A Guide to Developing and Implementing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Programs

Improving energy efficiency in K-12 school buildings can produce substantial energy, environmental, and economic benefits, including:

Reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and other environmental impacts. Improving energy efficiency in school buildings can help reduce GHG emissions and criteria air pollutants by decreasing consumption of fossil fuels. Fossil fuel combustion for electricity generation accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, a principle GHG, and 67 percent and 23 percent of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, respectively, which can lead to smog, acid rain, and trace amounts of airborne particulate matter that can cause respiratory problems for many people.

Reducing energy consumption can also contribute to other school district environmental objectives, such as resource conservation. For example, purchasing an ENERGY STAR labeled energy-efficient dishwasher in an office kitchen to reduce energy costs can also help reduce water utility bills and decrease the amount of used water that enters the wastewater system.

Reduce energy costs. Schools spend approximately $75 per student on gas bills and $130 per student on electricity each year (U.S. EPA, 2008). Figure 1 provides a breakdown of energy consumption in K-12 schools by end use. By implementing energy efficiency measures, many K-12 schools have been able to reduce energy costs by as much as 30 percent in existing facilities. According to EPA, modification of a pre-existing building for energy efficiency (a process known as retrocommissioning; see page 13 for more information), can save a typical 100,000-square-foot

school building between $10,000 and $16,000 annually, and simple behavioral and operational measures alone can reduce energy costs by up to 25 percent. Schools that have earned the ENERGY STAR label for superior energy performance cost $0.40 per square foot less to operate than conventional schools.

Increase economic benefits through job creation and market development. Investing in energy efficiency can stimulate the local economy and encourage development of energy efficiency service markets. According to the Department of Energy (DOE), approximately 60 percent of energy efficiency investments goes to labor costs, and half of all energy-efficient equipment is purchased from local suppliers. Across the nation, energy efficiency technologies and services are estimated to have created more than 8 million jobs in 2006.

Demonstrate leadership. Investing in energy efficiency helps foster market demand for energy-efficient technologies from local residents and businesses, and demonstrates responsible stewardship of public resources since reduced energy costs translate into saved tax dollars. In addition, improving energy efficiency can provide an opportunity to introduce children to important energy and environmental issues.

Improve student performance. Energy-efficient school building designs often use natural daylight to reduce the energy needed to light a building. Natural light has also been proven to have a positive effect on student performance. According to a study for the California Board for Energy Efficiency, students exposed to natural daylight in classrooms progress as much as 20 percent faster on math tests and as much as 26 percent faster on reading tests than students with no daylight exposure. Another study concluded that students in schools that offer systematic environmental education programs have higher test scores than students in schools with no such programs. Improving energy efficiency in K-12 school buildings can also have the indirect benefit of improving acoustic comfort (i.e., enabling effective communication by minimizing audible disturbance from outside and inside), which can also lead to improved student performance.

Improve indoor air quality. Some energy efficiency upgrades can improve occupant health by enhancing indoor air quality. Installing energy recovery ventilation equipment, for example, can reduce infiltration of air contaminants from outdoors while significantly reducing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) energy loads. One study on building performance found the average reduction in illness as a result of improved air quality in buildings is about 40 percent.

Increase attendance. An indirect benefit of energy efficiency measures in school buildings is an increase in school attendance rates. According to an analysis for the State of Washington, incorporating green building measures in school designs improves indoor air quality and can reduce absenteeism rates by as much as 15 percent. Also, since many school operating budgets are determined by average daily attendance, even a small reduction in absenteeism can save money.

Enhance educational opportunities. Energy-efficient school buildings can give students hands-on opportunities to learn about the benefits of smart energy management. Several K-12 schools have used energy efficiency improvements as opportunities to adapt academic curricula to promote awareness of energy and environmental issues. Some school districts have installed energy data kiosks in K-12 school buildings so students can monitor their school’s energy consumption.

Increase security and safety. Improving energy efficiency in K-12 school buildings can have positive effects on school security and student safety. For example, energy-efficient exterior lighting can enhance security while reducing energy costs by providing effective and even light distribution.

Other benefits. Other benefits from improving energy efficiency in K-12 school buildings include improvements in teacher retention rates, reductions in insurance costs, and reduced legal liability due to improved indoor environmental quality. In California, Stockton’s guidelines for developing energy-efficient school buildings in its K-12 school district cite lower risks of legal action stemming from inadequate indoor environmental quality as a benefit of school commissioning.

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Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency

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