Schools Need to Plug into Energy Saving Initiatives

Private Property South Africa

Modern school administrators and business managers have more on their plates than ever before. Budgets are tight. Energy costs are on the rise and the issues of climate change and environmental responsibility are increasingly taking centre stage.

Despite aging buildings, constrained operating budgets and spiralling energy bills both public and private schools are being asked to serve growing student populations and rising community expectations. Each year, taxpayers spend an estimated R1 billion on public school energy. And although energy may represent a small percentage of total operational costs it is one of the few expenses that can be decreased without affecting education.

That’s the opinion of Arend van der Walt, Divisional Operations Director of Broll Facilities Management (FM). “The fact is that schools can save significantly by practising good energy management, which also means that the money saved can be ploughed back into much needed books and equipment.

“Energy waste results from inefficient operations, poor controls, poor energy awareness and outdated practices. In a typical school building, lighting, heating, cooling and water heating represent the bulk of energy used, making such systems the best target for energy saving. Depending on the school’s load profile, by managing energy more effectively schools can save around 20 percent or more on electricity costs. As Eskom’s increases come into effect, these potential savings will only increase.”

In South Africa, many schools are aware that they must do something to make their premises and operations more ‘green’ but have no idea where to start, or how far to go explains Van der Walt. “One of the biggest challenges is that energy saving initiatives require upfront expenditure, which many schools have not budgeted for. Schools that are thinking about implementing energy saving initiatives need to take into consideration the costs involved and include those expenses in the upcoming year’s budget planning. Typically it takes between 18 and 60 months to realise a return on such investments.”

Van Der Walt remarks that it is crucial that schools change their mind set and realise that energy saving initiatives will reduce costs in the long run. What is more is that there are tools which can facilitate these savings. “One such tool is a rebate system Eskom is currently working on that will reimburse energy savers based on the proven energy savings they achieve. However the users themselves have to fund these projects upfront.”

Analysing energy usage is the first step in a school energy saving initiative. In most commercial buildings, air-conditioning accounts for between 60 percent and 80 percent of the total energy consumed; lighting accounts for about 10 percent and the balance goes on water heating and other equipment.

“Lighting is arguably the easiest factor to change and control,” says Van der Walt. “In terms of air-conditioning, energy can be saved purely by ensuring that the system you have in place operates optimally.” He adds that schools should make sure that all air conditioning units are switched off when the rooms are unoccupied. Servicing and maintenance of air conditioners is also critical.

Typically, air conditioners last between 5 and 15 years, following which they become inefficient and costly to maintain. Schools should plan to replace air conditioning systems once they have lived their useful lifespan recommends Van Der Walt. “Another way to save energy costs is to install power factor correction equipment. This can lower a school’s utility bills by improving the power factor efficiencies of the total connected load.”

Van der Walt says this equipment usually pays for itself within 12 to 18 months, and continues saving on costs indefinitely. He adds that such equipment is a particularly worthwhile investment given the escalating costs of electricity.

“As for boarding schools which require heated water for residences, these schools stand to save a lot on energy consumption by installing solar powered heating systems or heat pumps.” By way of example, Broll FM reduced the total energy consumption at a private boarding school in KwaZulu-Natal by between 6 percent and 9 percent just by changing the water heating system from heating elements to heat pumps.

“Ultimately, conserving energy is a good investment. It also improves the learning environment, and school children can be encouraged to understand more about energy saving through practical moves that limit the entire school population’s impact on the environment.”

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