Trends In Green

Another Energy Choice

As a society, we're recognizing the need to become more sustainable and leave behind a better world for future generations. Educators in particular see the promise of tomorrow reflected in their students’ faces every day. It’s no wonder that school administrators are seeking new ways to make their schools cleaner, healthier places for youth to learn and grow.

However, environmental concerns are not the only reason why schools are “going green.” According to the Department of Energy, educational facilities use a combined 820 trillion BTUs of energy annually — and that energy comes with a high price tag. Faced with ever-tightening budgets, schools must find new ways to simultaneously reduce a energy expenditures and environmental impact.

Many school administrators and facility managers are familiar with recycled building materials and energy-efficient heating and cooling systems. Fewer are aware that propane can also lower energy costs and reduce their school’s environmental footprint.

Propane is a cleaner-burning, affordable alternative fuel compared with conventional energy sources, according to Bridget Scanlon, director of residential and commercial programs for the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC). “Propane has a near-zero direct global warming potential compared with natural gas, and emits fewer than half the greenhouse gas emissions of electricity, which is largely generated by coal-fired power plants,” Scanlon says.

For all those reasons and more, both new and existing schools can benefit from propane’s energy-efficiency. Considering propane’s many other convenient advantages, it’s a smart choice for a wide variety of applications.

Space heating: Propane can warm buildings quickly — an important benefit for schools cycling through occupied and inactive periods. Energy-efficient, propane-fueled space heating systems consistently cost less to both purchase and install than heating-oil systems, air-source heat pumps or ground-source heat pumps. Converting existing space heating systems to propane is fast and easy with heating unit change-outs. These change-outs significantly reduce initial conversion costs and leave existing heating-distribution systems intact.

Water heating: Whether heating water to wash cafeteria trays or provide showers for school athletes, propane tankless water heaters are extremely efficient. These unique “on-demand” systems can reduce energy costs by up to 50 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 61 percent.

Grounds maintenance: Using propane-fueled commercial mowers is a smart decision, both financially and environmentally. Propane costs less per gallon and hour-of-operation compared with gasoline and diesel. Because propane-fueled mowers burn cleaner, they typically have a longer effective equipment life and are often less costly to maintain. These mowers also reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent and are approved for use on ozone action days.

Fleet vehicles: Switching to propane-fueled school buses from diesel buses reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent and eliminates harmful, smog-forming emissions. Furthermore, recently reported that an Indiana school district saved more than $10,000 in fuel costs after using just five propane-fueled buses for one year. And, according to School Transportation News, Mesa Public Schools — Arizona’s largest school district — expects to save $4.43 million in total operating costs over a five-year period thanks to its fleet of 89 propane-fueled buses.

Generators: Propane-fueled combined heat and power (CHP) systems and smaller micro-CHP systems can literally save the day in the event of an unexpected power outage.

These systems may also generate excess electricity that a school can sell to its local electric utility for an even greater return on investment. Standby generators are another propane-fueled option that schools can combine with solar, wind or other renewable energy resources to create reliable, environmentally friendly hybrid energy systems.

PERC is making propane an even more attractive alternative with its Propane Heat & Power Incentive Program, a nationwide initiative that encourages residential and commercial sites to adopt energy-efficient propane-fueled products. “Participants can receive up to $10,000 toward the purchase of premium generator sets and micro-CHP systems in exchange for reporting performance data to PERC,” Scanlon says. “Feedback from the program will be used to supplement future product development and research.”

Propane’s many economical and environmentally-friendly applications make this alternative fuel worthy of consideration by educational facilities everywhere. For more information about how propane can help schools be green and save green, visit

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management July 2013 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Lynette Von Minden is a senior public relations counsel for Swanson Russell, a marketing communications agency in Lincoln, Neb. She can be reached at [email protected].