Power, Politics and Purchasing

Accountability and assessment: the two words that are most often spoken by parents, politicians and administrators when discussing improvement in our schools. When we hear these terms, we automatically think of standardized test scores for students or performance goals for teachers. Rarely do we think of accountability in terms of the performance of our school buildings, mechanical systems or energy use. Considering the attention that the condition of the nation’s schools has received, and the funds that are becoming available for repairing and upgrading these facilities, now would be the perfect opportunity to be sure that our buildings are as “energy smart” as our students are “book smart.”

In order to understand the costs and the potential savings, let’s look at the numbers. In the United States there are approximately 78,300 public schools educating more than 45 million students. The condition of these schools has been in the headlines for the past decade. In the report released in June of 2000 by the National Center for Education Statistics, Condition of America’s Public School Facilities: 1999, 76 percent of schools indicated that they would need to spend some money on repairs, renovation or modernizations to bring the school into good overall condition. This adds up to a total of approximately $127 billion, an average amount per school of $2.2 million.

When we look only at energy or energy-related components, the numbers are still staggering. Twenty-nine percent of all public schools reported less than adequate heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; 22 percent reported less than adequate electric power; 17 percent reported less than adequate electrical lighting; and one-third of schools were unsatisfied with energy efficiency. This sounds like a crisis, but herein lies the opportunity. During the next two years school districts are planning a major repair, renovation or replacement of many of these energy-related components. Nearly 22,000 schools (28 percent) plan work on their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems; more than 14,000 schools (18 percent) plan work on electric power systems; and more than 12,500 (16 percent) plan work on their electrical lighting. With all of this activity, we owe it to ourselves to look at the long-term effects of energy-efficient solutions, especially in light of the rising cost of utilities.

Utilities Expenditures in Schools

Education buildings (including preschools, K-12, vocational and college classrooms) are the fifth most prevalent commercial building type, accounting for 12 percent of all commercial energy consumption.

Natural gas (40 percent) and electricity (36 percent) are the predominant fuels, with fuel oil (nine percent) and direct heat/steam (15 percent) making up the balance. Space heating accounts for 41 percent of the overall energy consumed, followed by water heating (22 percent), lighting (20 percent), cooling (six percent), and other (11 percent). According to the EIA 1995 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, education buildings spent $0.92 per square foot on average for energy, less than the commercial average of $1.19 per square foot.

Electricity. Seventy-two percent of the cost of energy in education buildings goes towards electricity ($0.67 per square foot for on-site electricity). The majority of electricity goes toward lighting (56 percent), followed by cooling (16 percent), ventilation (six percent), space heating (six percent), office equipment (five percent) and other (11 percent). The good news is that cost for electricity is expected to decline from 6.7 cents per kilowatt-hour in 1998 to 5.8 cents in 2020, an average decline of 0.6 percent. Consumption is projected to grow by 1.4 percent a year through 2020. This expected growth in electricity use is attributed to the use of a variety of equipment including telecommunications, computers and office equipment.

Restructuring of the electricity industry is expected to contribute to declining prices through lower operating costs, lower administrative costs and other cost reductions. In the past electricity prices were based on three parts -- generation, transmission and distribution. With deregulation, generation of power will be unbundled from the transmission and distribution, which will continue to be regulated. New technologies eliminate the economy of scale. It is no longer necessary to build 1,000-megawatt generating plants when combined-cycle gas turbines reach maximum efficiency at 400 megawatts or aero-derivative gas turbines are efficient at scales as small as 10 megawatts.

The effect will be competition in the generation of electric energy, allowing consumers the opportunity to choose. The effects of deregulation on other industries (telecommunications, gas, banking, airlines and trucking) included lower prices, equal or improved service, innovations (including products, services and efficiencies), equal or improved safety and reliability. However, a study prepared by George Mason University and the Brookings Institute indicated that it can take up to 10 years for the industry to settle down after a breakup. Last year, 13 percent of the total net generation of electricity came from non-utility power producers, such as independent power producers and non-utility cogenerators.

Natural Gas. Sixteen percent of the cost of energy in education buildings goes towards natural gas. Nearly all use of natural gas can be attributed to space heating (60 percent) and water heating (30 percent), an average of $0.19 per square foot. This low percentage is welcome news as prices for natural gas climb. The consumer price for natural gas, which averaged $6.61/mcf in 1999-2000, is projected to reach $8.58/mcf in 2000-2001, a 29.5 percent increase over last year. The question for the future will be supply. The U.S. had large natural gas reserves and was self-sufficient until the late 1980s, when consumption began to outpace production. Projected demand in 2020 is 31.5 trillion cubic feet, which exceeds 1998 by almost 50 percent. The uncertainty with regard to estimates of the nation’s natural gas resources and the need for considerable expansion of the interstate pipelines to transport are also considerations.

The long and short of it -- America’s K-12 schools will spend over $6 billion on energy costs this year, a cost that is second only to salaries, and exceeds that of computers, supplies and books. On average, $110 per student will be spent for energy, with an additional $30 for other utilities (water, waste water and trash). The cost of energy is high, but opportunities to cut that cost are many. Over the next few years many schools will be renovating, upgrading or building new facilities. Now is the time to look into alternatives that will make your school a high-performance, energy-efficient facility.

Energy-Saving Alternatives

Daylighting. Did you know that modern buildings, designed to harvest daylighting, typically use 40 to 60 percent less electricity for lighting than conventional buildings do (NRDC, 1996)? When you consider that 56 percent of our electric cost goes for lighting, harvesting daylight can amount to substantial savings.

Solar Energy. Solar energy is expected to reach commercial maturity by 2010. It is considered to be a clean, renewable and modular source of energy. Solar technologies can range from inexpensive, passive options for solar heating to expensive photovoltaic systems. Passive heating captures the heat of the sun, and goes hand-in-hand with daylighting in schools. Although easy in a new building and possible in an addition, passive solar can’t be added to existing buildings, which make up a majority of schools in this country.

However, there are many cases where solar energy can be used to supplement space heating (41 percent of energy consumed) through ventilation preheating. This can be achieved by placing a black metal sheet on a south-facing wall with air intake for ventilation through the holes in the heated metal sheet. Another option includes solar hot water systems that use “collector” technologies. Although higher in initial cost, payback can be expected in less than 10 years. Solar photovoltaic systems generate electricity directly from the sun. This is a growing market, as the cost of photovoltaic systems is declining. However, they are not yet a viable source, with utility company electric at eight cents per kilowatt-hour and photovoltaic at 25 cents per kWh.

Wind. The Climate Change Technology Initiative (CCTI) has set a goal of developing turbines able to produce power at 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in good wind conditions by 2002 and providing five percent of the nation’s electricity needs by 2020. Most do not believe that this can be accomplished. For general use two factors come into play: 1) geography affects wind as a resource, and 2) your state’s utilities may have restrictions that limit feasibility. Wind technology has been proven successful, and profitable, for four school districts in Iowa.

Geothermal. The mission of the DOE’s Geothermal Energy Program is to work with industry to establish geo-thermal energy as a sustainable, environmentally sound, economical source of energy with a level cost of less than 3.5 cents per kilowatt-hour in good steam resources. Geothermal heating and cooling works by taking advantage of the constant temperature of the earth below the frost line. A series of pipes is buried beneath a parking lot or playing field. Water or antifreeze is circulated through this buried plastic pipe. The fluid absorbs heat from the ground during winter and transfers it to the heating/cooling system in the building. In summer, heat from the building is returned to the ground. This is known as a closed loop system. An open loop system works in much the same way, but uses water wells. Geothermal technologies offer schools a competitive initial investment, along with lower operating and maintenance costs. These systems use 25-50 percent less energy than traditional heating and cooling systems, with districts expecting payback of system installation costs in 2-8 years.

Where to Go for Help

There are many programs available for schools through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Energy (DOE), and local Energy Service Companies (ESCOs). Ask for their help in developing an energy plan for your school or district.

Energy Smart Schools is a campaign of DOE’s Rebuild America Program announced in October 1998. The initiative proposes to bring together public and private sector resources to help cut schools’ energy bills by up to 25 percent, providing savings to be reinvested in education. Energy Smart Schools is an informational and outreach program. It helps schools access existing programs such as Clean Cities, Energy Star, Million Solar Roofs and other programs that provide technical assistance, tools and training to schools. More information about the Energy Smart Schools Campaign and guidelines are available at .

Rebuild America is a program of the U.S. Department of Energy. This voluntary program helps community partnerships make profitable investments in existing buildings through energy-efficient technologies, creating energy-efficient buildings which cost less to operate, increase in market value, enhance productivity and protect the environment. More information on Rebuild America can be found at .

Energy Star Buildings partnerships offer tools to help improve your buildings’ energy efficiency, save money and reduce pollution. Visit their Website at .

Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) can help schools reduce energy consumption and redirect monies saved. By entering into energy-saving performance contracts with ESCOs, school districts can reduce their energy consumption and associated costs by an average of 25 percent or more. For more information visit NAESCO’s Website at .

Deborah P. Moore is Executive Editor of School Planning and Management.