Energy Efficiency and Schools

Energy usage is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California. California schools can reduce emissions by increasing renewable energy generation and green power purchasing, as well as by reducing overall energy usage. Renewable energy is energy supplied from sources, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, and biomass.

By taking action to save energy, students, teachers, and school district officials can all be part of the solution to reduce the impacts of climate change. Schools can also reduce annual energy expenses by about 20 percent through implementing these energy efficiency tips.

Energy accounting can be one of the most cost-effective tools school districts can use to cut energy costs. The California Energy Commission (CEC) offers services to help identify the most cost-effective energy saving opportunities for schools through the Bright Schools Program. The CEC also provides funding to upgrade heating, air conditioning, and ventilation (HVAC) systems in public schools and replaces noncompliant plumbing fixtures and appliances that fail to meet water efficiency standards through the CalSHAPE program and Zero-Interest Loans for Schools.

Contact your local utility to obtain records of energy consumption data from schools. School districts can use ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager software to track building energy usage over multiple years.

Buy Green

Schools can save money by implementing an environmentally preferable purchasing policy. Environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) means purchasing goods and services that are better for human health and the environment as compared to other similar goods and services. Environmentally preferable products are high-quality, durable, less toxic, reusable, recyclable and use less materials, water and energy, thus minimizing the impact on California's climate.

CalRecycle provides resources to support adopting new school board policies and regulations that help reduce a school’s environmental footprint, including information to facilitate the implementation of EPP practices in a school district, and recognition programs.

The EPA developed "The Healthy School Environments" website which serves as a portal to on-line resources to help facility managers, school administrators, architects, design engineers, school nurses, parents, teachers and staff to address environmental health issues in schools. The EPA also maintains a Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services- a tool to make it easier to purchase products and services with reduced environmental impacts. 

Purchase ENERGY STAR Equipment: By purchasing copiers, fax machines, computers, scanners, exit signs, heating and cooling products, windows and other equipment with the ENEGY STAR label, schools can save money while reducing energy-related greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. Energy Star resources for K-12 Schools and Colleges and Universities.

People Power

Appoint an energy manager

By appointing an energy manager, school districts identify a lead staff person responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive energy management program. An energy manager is in charge of planning, procurement and utilization of energy resources at a property, facility, or portfolio of properties. Energy managers often recommend policy for energy efficiency and conservation, develop long-range plans, and provide reports on the effectiveness of the energy program.

Form an EPP Team

Each school should have at least one staff person who will advocate for the purchase of green products. Forming an EPP team can help 1) ensure EPP goals are set, 2) promote an EPP procurement plan, 3) track policy adherence, and 4) suggest additional items to be included in the school's climate-friendly purchasing program.

Involve the Whole School

Get the entire school involved. Energy savings add up when the entire school joins together in conservation efforts. Schools with effective conservation programs have reported reductions of as much as 25% in utility bills.

Reduce Energy Demand of Computers, Appliances and Equipment

About 15% of energy use in schools is dedicated to office equipment, refrigeration, computers, and other appliances. A creative way to save money involves reducing the energy demand of computers, appliances and equipment at schools.

Reduce Energy Usage

Turn off lights when not needed: Light fixtures near windows, especially in unused corners or along banks of windows, may not be necessary. Have students conduct an experiment in classrooms by turning off selected banks of lights and surveying comfort at different lighting levels. Create an energy patrol and work to ensure lights are out when rooms are empty – whether in classrooms, the cafeteria, the auditorium, etc.

  • Set Computers and Monitors to "Sleep" Mode. It is a good idea to set your computer and monitor to “sleep” mode even when inactive for a few minutes. Screen savers don’t save energy—only the sleep mode does.
  • Replace older cfl and incandescent light bulbs with more energy-efficient options, such as LEDs.
  • Install Programmable thermostats: Energy management systems include thermostat control and timing for the entire campus.
  • Use surge protectors: Ask teachers and school district staff to plug all equipment into surge protectors and turn them off when not in use.
  • Install Occupancy Sensors: Occupancy sensors will automatically turn off the lights when no one is in the room. Install occupancy sensors in classrooms and other commonly used areas to save energy.

Stop Air Leaks

  • Leaving doors wide open to a room or building may make it more inviting to come in, but it wastes energy. Don't prop doors open but allow them to close after people walk through the doorway. Encourage everyone to keep doors and windows closed when heating or air conditioning is running.
  • Make sure books or furniture do not block the vents in your classroom. Keep bookcases and other bulky items away from the heating and cooling units so they don’t block and/or absorb the warm (or cool) air that should be coming into the room.
  • Encourage students to be innovative. Have students determine areas of energy loss by using “draftmeters” made from plastic wrap and pencils to study where drafts are coming in. Have students help replace insulation and stuff energy loss “holes” by making translucent window quilts to hang in classrooms and “insulation snakes” to put at the bottom of doors and windows. Work with facility staff to install permanent weather stripping, caulking, and insulation.

Appliance Maintenance

  • A clean filter maximizes your furnace's efficiency and longevity-- and minimizes your energy bills.
  • Keep refrigerator coils clean to increase its efficiency
  • Install controllers in vending machines to reduce the compressor run time

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