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DfE guidance and funding for energy efficiency measures in schools and colleges

On 6 December the government published new guidance on how schools and colleges can be more energy efficient. The guidance seeks to assist education providers to reduce their energy consumption, energy costs and carbon emissions, and can be read in full here: Energy efficiency: guidance for the school and further education college estate - GOV.UK (

The government also announced £500million in funding to help schools and colleges with energy efficiency upgrades. Ultimately, it is up to education providers to decide how their allocation is spent and they can decide to spend the funding on other capital projects. College groups are said to be expected to receive £290 million.

Of course it is hoped the funding will be spent on energy efficiency measures, and the guidance offers numerous recommendations on steps that could be taken from the large (install a wind turbine) to the small (discuss energy efficiency in assemblies). The top recommended action is to carry out an energy audit and, from this, create an action plan of how to encourage good behaviours and implement interventions. More of the recommendations are considered below.

Get familiar with your energy usage

It is suggested that schools and colleges should undertake regular meter readings to help them understand their energy usage.

Getting a smart meter fitted could be a useful first step. If you already have a smart meter fitted, then you can use Energy Sparks to compare your energy consumption to that of other schools: Energy Sparks for schools | Energy Sparks  

A campus of eco warriors 

It’s important to implement behavioural change for all people using your estate as every light switch left on too long is an unnecessary increase in energy bills and carbon emissions. Simple steps could be taken to challenge behaviours such as:

  • putting up posters to remind staff and learners to turn off equipment;
  • discussing energy efficiency in staff meetings, tutor group sessions or assemblies;
  • carrying out spot checks to ensure actions are being taken;
  • setting up an eco or green club to share ideas (and they could help with the energy audit too!)

Don’t forget, it’s vital that the senior leaders set the correct example and show support for running a more energy efficient campus. You could perhaps consider drafting a sustainability policy.

Getting heating levels right can help with the concentration of learners but can also provide savings on your bills. Switching off the heating an hour earlier than last usage to make the most of latent heat within the building can save between 5 and 10% off the annual heating bill. A similar saving can be made by reducing the temperate by 1⁰C.

However, the government guidance also bears warning for suitable minimum temperatures as follows:

  • In spaces where there is a normal level of activity (classrooms, offices) – 18⁰C
  • In spaces where people are inactive or sick - 21⁰C
  • In all other spaces (circulation areas, toilets) - 15⁰C

You may also want to consider if there are any exposed pipes that could be insulated or if thermostatic radiator valves could be retrofitted to allow for localised heating controls.

Water wastage worries

To reduce wasting water, you may look at installing cistern dams, urinal controllers, flow restrictors and self-closing taps. None of which reduce user experience but can lead to big savings.

You could also consider how you heat your water supply. Constant hot water is not needed to manage the risks of legionella and so the water heater can be turned off at the mains during evenings, weekends and holidays.

Lightbulb moments

It is now commonly known that LED lights can be an effective way of improving energy efficiency. Although you should check that any replacement lightbulbs meet the requirements of DfE’s output specification.

You could also look to install light timers or sensors in some spaces. For example, for security lighting or lighting in toilets.

Even small steps such as regularly cleaning all windows, drawing blinds and removing window obstructions to make the most of natural light can help.

Have you tried turning it off and not on again?

It’s important we all get in the habit of switching off electrical equipment when not in use and, if possible, you could set devices to power down automatically when not in use.

In addition, it can be helpful to use cloud-based alternatives for storage rather than large servers and, when next looking to upgrade equipment, look at purchasing more energy efficient equipment. Replacing desktop computers with laptops or tablets could reduce energy consumption from the equipment by 80%.

And don’t forget about spaces other than the classrooms and offices. You could label kitchen equipment with warm-up times so they’re not switched on for unnecessarily long periods of time. 

Ready for something more radical?

Of course, the funding could be spent on renewable energy technology so you can generate energy on site. However, be careful to instruct a specialist to advise whether your site would be suitable.

Solar panels and solar thermal panels can be great ways to generate energy from the sun, but you will need to check if your existing roof space is suitable and need some internal space to store an invertor or hot water cylinder.

Likewise, if you’re considering whether a wind turbine would be suitable for your school or college, you’ll need to make sure you have an outside space free from any obstacles and a wind speed of at least 5 meters per second.