Energy Efficiency Pays

Not a day goes by where the cost of oil doesn’t make the evening news. The “Energy Outlook 2008” report, released in March by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), projects even higher prices for oil and natural gas in the coming months, as well as increases in the costs to transport, distribute, and refine the fuels we have come to depend on. It is a guarantee that these higher costs will be passed on to consumers, including school districts, making tight budgets even tighter.

Higher energy costs combined with a slowing economy is making energy management one of the most challenging and important tasks for school facility managers today. K-12 schools already spend more than $8B annually on energy, making it the second-highest operating expenditure for schools after personnel costs. Based on current data observed and collected nationally by Energy Efficient Solutions, the annual energy costs for a school district of 4,000 students averages $700,000 in a conventional school. In EnergySmart Schools, where energy-efficient choices are made, the price tag comes to $488,000 — a savings of more than $212,000 per year. Every dollar saved can be redirected to education.

With data like this in hand, you would think it would be easy to sell the idea of building an energy-efficient, high-performance school. It isn’t. The debate has switched from the benefits of a high performance facility to the cost of building one. This is complicated even more by the low-bid, first-cost mentality we find in many K-12 school districts. The U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and the EnergySmart Schools program have put together some tips to help you win the argument.

•    Constructing a high-performance school does not have to cost more than a conventionally-built school. With the right planning, an energy-efficient school should cost no more than a conventionally-built one and will pay for itself in substantially lower operational costs. Some features even allow for a decrease in initial energy-related costs. A well-insulated and tight building envelope, for example, requires a smaller HVAC system. Low-emissivity windows for daylighting may reduce electrical wiring and lighting fixtures.

•    Schools spend more on energy than any other expense except personnel. Energy costs are a significant item in a school's operating budget, yet many administrators are unaware of their monthly utility expenditures. The costs can be high, but they are an expense that a school can actually control.

•    High-performance schools, if operated and maintained properly, can significantly lower a school district's operating costs. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the nation's schools spend an average of $175 per student per year on energy costs. Because of its design and operation, an EnergySmart school uses 30 percent less energy.

•    Energy costs are one of the few expenses a school can reduce without sacrificing educational quality. More efficient energy operations allow a school to cut costs, and the resulting savings can be put toward hiring another teacher or upgrading the computer lab.

•    Schools are central to the communities they serve and should reflect community values. There is a growing awareness in the U.S. about the effects of global warming and the need for energy conservation. As vital community centers, schools are in a position to serve as demonstration models of energy efficiency. In addition, schools with onsite renewable energy sources can play an important role during times of natural or manmade disasters.

•    Schools are the best place to teach the nation's children about energy conservation.  High-performance schools can make many of their components part of the educational experience. At some schools, the building's heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems are encased in glass so that students can learn about their operation. The students can even give tours to visitors, explaining the function of each energy-efficient feature.

Although energy costs may be the primary driver, there are a number of other reasons that schools should consider building high performance buildings. High performance buildings have: economic benefits — reducing operating costs, optimizing performance, and reducing liability and litigation risks; environmental benefits — reducing the impact of natural resource consumption; health and safety benefits — enhancing student and staff comfort and health, and improving absenteeism, productivity, and performance; and benefits to the community — minimizing strain on local infrastructures, and improving the quality of life for students, staff, and community members alike.