Energy use and conservation in schools

Energy use is a big part of your school’s expenditure. Doing some small things can make a big difference to your energy consumption and your energy bill. A good place to start is to monitor your energy use and identify where you can make savings. There is also a lot of expert advice available to help you make the best energy decisions for your school.

Paying for energy costs

You receive funding in your operational funding to pay for:

  • electricity
  • gas
  • coal and wood
  • running your septic tank if you are not on town sewerage
  • water rates
  • staff costs, such as your caretaker’s wages for energy-related work like firing up the boiler
  • energy audits
  • consumables, such as light bulbs, elements and toilet paper.

To find out more about how this funding is calculated and how you can get it reviewed, see:

Monitoring your use of energy

If you keep track of your energy use, you can see where it’s being wasted. You should be able to cut costs by at least 10% just by knowing where energy is being used and by making a few changes.

Monitoring includes:

  • knowing your energy costs
  • comparing your school with other schools
  • monitoring energy use over time, for example, by seeing which items, such as lighting and computers, are left running when they’re not needed
  • making one person responsible for gathering information and setting up a team to support them
  • setting targets.

Setting up an energy monitoring system

Several suppliers provide energy-monitoring systems for New Zealand schools. The cost depends on the size of the school.

The best systems are web based and allow you to see energy being used live. Ideally, it can be:

  • viewed by school management
  • used as a teaching and learning resource in the classroom.

A commercial system will:

  • meter energy use at the switchboard to give accurate information for all parts of the school
  • pinpoint where energy is being used and by which equipment (for example, heating or computers)
  • provide a baseline to measure energy use
  • give reports on meeting targets
  • help locate faults or energy ‘leakages’.

Setting up your own energy monitoring system

If a commercial system isn’t an option, you can:

  • analyse energy invoices over the previous 2 years
  • check invoices against meters to check they are right
  • confirm which areas of the school the meters cover
  • do random assessments to see how many items are switched off when they aren’t being used
  • appoint energy monitors to spot energy waste and promote energy-efficient behaviour.

Using an energy auditor

An energy auditor can give you in-depth information about your energy use. They can recommend the best options for new systems, like heating, and they can tell you about ways to reduce the need for heating and cooling.

An auditor will do an initial review and will explain where savings can be made. This could be through:

  • identifying exactly where you use the most energy
  • fixing mistakes in how your school is charged
  • changing the way your school is metered
  • taking advantage of discounts
  • disconnecting unnecessary meters 
  • reducing the size of the transformer.

The Energy Management Association of New Zealand (EMANZ) website gives more information on energy audits, including:

Setting energy-saving targets

Monitoring is just the first step. Use the information you get from monitoring to:

  • identify where you can make savings 
  • put together an energy-saving plan, with targets
  • make people responsible for the energy-saving plan
  • raise awareness of energy use in the school
  • review your plan according to monitoring information
  • build commitment to energy saving across your school.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has put out some energy saving action sheets that you may find useful:

Using an energy analyst or broker

You may want to employ an energy analyst or broker to:

  • assess your energy supply agreement to see if you’re getting the best rate
  • negotiate with the energy company to get a better rate
  • do an annual review of your energy supply agreement.

Making energy efficiencies at your school

There are many small, low-cost things you can do to make efficiencies at your school. For example, one important thing is raising awareness, in particular, encouraging people to ‘switch off’.

Having efficient heating and cooling

In most schools, heating takes up around half of all energy use. Some tips for increasing efficiency include:

  • ensuring windows and doors close snugly
  • making the most of passive heating by ensuring north-facing windows are clean
  • ensuring you have good insulation and ventilation
  • having a plan to insulate all rooms and double-glaze when you upgrade
  • using blinds to screen out sun in rooms that can overheat.

To find out more about heating and ventilation, see Designing Quality Learning Spaces in schools.

Having efficient central heating

Although central heating is generally more efficient than local space heating, you should still make sure that your central heating runs efficiently.

To make your central heating run efficiently:

  • make sure all thermostats work properly and teachers know how to use them
  • make sure all pipes are lagged
  • make sure boilers are serviced regularly (the cost of operating an inefficient boiler is more than the money you save not maintaining it) 
  • put checks in place to make sure boilers aren’t running when your school is closed
  • make sure heat is turned off in spaces when it is not needed.

To find out more about boiler maintenance, go to boilers.

Having efficient local heating

If you don’t have a central heating system, think about these points when using local heating.

  • Heat pumps are more efficient than fan or radiant heaters, but they are more expensive to run than central heating and have to be replaced more often.
  • Try not to use heat pumps for cooling. Open windows instead.
  • Use timers or make someone responsible for switching off heaters when they’re not needed.

To find out more about heating, look at these information sheets put out by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.

If you’re using electric heating, all electrical appliances must be regularly tested. To find out more, go to electrical equipment testing.

Having efficient lighting

To make your lighting more efficient:

  • put ‘switch off’ labels on light switches
  • label groups of switches so it’s clear which lights they control
  • use natural lighting wherever possible by ensuring windows are clean and rooms are painted in light colours
  • remove unnecessary lights, such as old blackboard lights
  • install timers that will switch off lights at the end of a teaching period
  • make sure lights are cleaned each year.

The EECA Business Lighting Assessment Tool (external link)  will help you assess how efficient your lighting is and will give you options for more efficient lighting.

EECA will pay up to 40% towards new lighting in schools if it will make worthwhile energy savings.

Some of the criteria for this subsidy are:

  • it must cover all lighting in the school block
  • the new lighting must be approved by EECA
  • lighting sensors must be included
  • the possible energy savings must be assessed by a lighting technician; some EECA business partners (external link)  offer this service free). They will then send a Project Retrofit application to EECA on your behalf. EECA will respond within 30 days.

To find out more about efficient lighting, go to:

Having efficient hot water

Although hot water is usually around 10% of a school’s energy use, you can still make savings. And if you have a swimming pool, heating the water can be around 50% of your energy use. To have an efficient hot water system:

  • put flow restrictors on hot water taps
  • use efficient shower heads
  • make sure small hot water boilers, such as Zips, are switched off at the end of the day
  • unplug hot water cylinders that aren’t needed
  • repair dripping taps
  • use swimming pool covers properly and keep them in good repair.

To find out more, see the EECA action sheet on hot water in schools (external link)  [PDF, 100 KB].

Having efficient electrical equipment

Computers can waste a lot of energy. This is because they are often left on for long periods. Some ways to save energy include:

  • making sure computers and other electrical equipment go into ‘sleep’ mode when they are not being used 
  • switching monitors off when computers aren’t used for a few minutes
  • making someone responsible for switching off electronic equipment
  • putting up reminders in the staff kitchen about using appliances efficiently
  • making sure all new appliances have an Energy Star label that shows they are very efficient.

To find out more, see:

Raising energy awareness

It’s essential for school managers and leaders to show their support for energy efficiency. You can do this by:

  • making energy efficiency a priority
  • appointing energy ‘champions’, who are responsible for spotting energy waste and promoting energy efficiency
  • seeking input to the energy plan and rewarding feedback
  • celebrating achievements
  • keeping people informed about new ideas
  • making it fun by having activities or competitions around saving energy.

To find out more about raising awareness and involving staff, see:

Teaching energy efficiency

Your school’s energy efficiency system provides a great learning opportunity for all students. There are several resources that provide a guide on how to build energy conservation into the curriculum.

Reinvesting energy savings

Once you’ve made energy savings, it’s a good idea to reinvest those savings and further improve energy efficiency. This means making good decisions when you buy new equipment or plan a new building.

Before spending any significant amount on equipment or buildings, it’s important that you get expert advice on energy consumption and ongoing running costs.

Last reviewed: Has this been useful? Give us your feedback