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Why Energy Efficiency is Vital for Education





The education sector has faced a major challenge balancing already stretched budgets with a significant hike in energy costs, with some schools reporting a 500% increase in energy costs. In an effort to keep the lights on over the past winter, many schools and universities alike faced difficult choices including scaling back on staff, teaching resources and building work.  

At the same time, the education sector faces unique pressure when it comes to sustainability. While it has a vital role to play in the UK’s net zero ambitions, perhaps more so than any other sector education faces internal pressure from a growing number of students, parents and stakeholders that are increasingly engaged with the need for better sustainability.  

Fortunately, there is one area that can deliver benefits in both areas at the same time. The cheapest and cleanest unit of electricity is the one that an organisation doesn’t use. This means that energy efficiency plays a vital and growing role both in mitigating rising energy costs and reducing associated carbon emissions, with the impact only becoming more substantial as energy costs continue to increase. 

The Growing Demand for Net Zero 

The early swell of support for net zero from student bodies saw many UK universities become amongst the first to commit to binding carbon reduction targets, with the sector as a whole committing to a 43% reduction by 2021. Figures released in December 2022 show that some 59% of universities fell short of this ambition. While 100 UK universities loudly heralded their exclusion of fossil fuel companies from their investment portfolios, 40 of those have failed to follow up with meaningful policy. 

Currently 1,853 UK schools have signed up to the Let’s Go Zero initiative, pledging to achieve net zero by 2030, representing 104,000 teachers and 620,000 pupils. However, this leaves more than 30,000 schools outstanding, with an important role to play in terms of engaging young people with the need to decarbonise and demonstrate the net zero credentials that they will increasingly come to expect from their education providers. 

Making clear, demonstrable progress towards net zero, rather than vague assurances, is now fundamental to the brand reputation of organisations within the education sector.  

How to Make Schools more Energy Efficient 

There are a host of techniques and technologies available to improve energy efficiency, and the impact a specific solution will have may differ significantly from one organisation to the next. With many education providers having a large number of staff and students, behaviour is typically one of the largest areas for improvement, which typically requires a clear, concise sustainability policy for them to follow. Making staff and students aware of the energy they are using, and both the monetary and environmental impact of that usage, can be a powerful tool for improvement. 

Voltage optimisation represents one major energy efficiency improvement, conditioning incoming power to reduce the voltage to a level that is optimal for on-site equipment. As well as significantly reducing overall energy consumption, this also helps to minimise wear and tear on equipment and reduce maintenance requirements. 

Powerstar worked with County Durham school St John’s to help them reduce energy costs and resolve a recurring issue where computers would regularly fail and take the school network offline. Other site infrastructure including heating pumps for the swimming pool and air handling units in the kitchens were also frequently disrupted.

A site survey found that excessive harmonics were responsible for the disruption, with a voltage optimisation unit resolving the issue as well as delivering more than £8,000 in annual energy costs. Read the full case study here.

The campus nature of many education sites means that they often require a complex, extensive energy strategy to unlock the maximum potential benefits and savings when it comes to energy efficiency. It is here that a battery energy storage system is able to come into its own as the cornerstone of a comprehensive energy management strategy. 

BESS can be used to protect a site from the risk of power disruption, which in education can compromise not only valuable teaching time and data but also the safety of students. However, unlike a UPS or backup generator a BESS also offers a wealth of other applications that can be used to unlock additional savings or to use electricity more intelligently. This includes maximising the return on investment from on-site generation, storing excess electricity for use at a later time, or by generating valuable new revenue streams by engaging with grid balancing services. 

To find out more about how Powerstar can support the education sector, click here


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