Cutting back on the budget – is renewable energy the answer?
Mark Stevenson, Managing Director of Bright Spark Energy, advises how schools can cut back on their budget by using renewable energy options. He explains how making tiny efficiency changes as well as exploring funding options can provide schools with the tools to save money...
School budgets are on everyone’s minds. With budgets being squeezed, the pressure to find solutions that can help schools save money and reduce the pressure on school leaders and teachers grows. Small, proactive changes 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, the benefits that they bring and the different funding and providers that are available to assist schools with larger investments.
The smaller changes
Schools are often very environmentally conscious, especially when it comes to things such as green spaces and encouraging children to explore and respect the nature around them. Small changes made every day in the classroom can quickly add up and result in real savings. 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 a substantial amount of money! This small action can be turned into an activity for the classroom, too. Pupils could be assigned the role of ‘light marshalls’ who have the responsibility to turn the lights off when classrooms are not used. Another option is to get pupils to monitor the classroom temperature as part of a lesson, enabling children to learn about science, finances and responsibility while also saving the school money! Turning down the temperature in the classrooms a few degrees will save a lot over a long winter.
Another investment would be LED Lighting. LED Lighting is often labelled "the future of lighting", due to the very small amount of 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. Switching the lighting has obvious benefits, funding models are available so there is upfront capital cost and it has the potential for long-term financial savings.
For schools that are thinking long-term, larger investments – such as switching to renewable energy options – can save the school money while also providing other substantial benefits to the environment and the classroom!
Solar Photovolatics, also known as solar PV for short, is a piece of technology that features heavily in our lives, with homes as well as businesses and schools using solar PV to heat their home. It has been often been viewed as an alternative to traditional methods like fossil fuels. In its simplest terms, it is a technology that allows for daylight to be converted into electrical power.
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 financial surplus for schools once they have installed solar PV systems.
One school that we worked closely with, Beccles Primary Academy in Suffolk, actually managed to use their solar energy to power lunches! The Academy had upgraded their kitchens to use electric ovens but the electricity bills soared. Our team designed a solar installation to be the most efficient when the ovens were on, so the solar power is cooking the school dinners at the moment. Installed in November, it has been estimated that the solar power will generate 53% of the Academy’s electricity requirements onsite, reducing their reliance on grid-bought electricity.
It’s all well and good speaking about long-term investments, such as switching to solar panel energy, but if schools are aiming to cut back on expenditure, it can be difficult to find the initial investment despite the obvious benefits it could bring.
However, there are funding options available that aim to help schools invest in renewable energy, while also protecting their finances and providing long-term protection against faulty or damaged equipment. For example, Bright Sparks funding partner, Less Is More Capital provides schools with funding in order to generate a surplus, which can then be reinvested back into learning.
Renewable energy can increase your investment threefold
The funding scheme estimates that for every £1 that is put into schools’ renewable energy options it will generate £3-4 from renewable energy innovations that can then be reinvested back into the schools, for example to provide new materials for learners.
Funding such as this often comes with better warranty timescales, with the Less Is More Capital and its partners offering warranty for 13 years, providing security should the equipment be faulty or get damaged. Other organisations tend to skim on warranties, which could then leave schools with little option but to either spend additional money to replace damages or use faulty equipment.
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. Finally, it is important to remember that there is funding available for schools to ease this process. Providing financial security is important, so that schools can reap the financial and environmental benefits for years to come.