How will the recently announced changes effect Energy efficient design?
How we consume utilities like energy and water in our education spaces has a big impact on how we design and upgrade, which is why the recent Budget is so significant for the sector.
There is little direct action on energy efficiency in schools, further education (FE) and higher education (HE) but a seismic shift happening with the move of all schools to academies over the next four years.
By 2020, the Government wants all schools to be private organisations, out of local authority control and this acceleration in intention aims “to create a gold standard education throughout England”.
Time will tell whether academically the move to independence will be better for our young people but one thing is certain – under current frameworks, academy schools will struggle to find funding for energy saving and other improvements.
This means that the thousands of schools currently able to access interest-free funding to improve their learning environments and relieve tight budgets through energy efficiency measures like the installation of LED lighting will no longer have broad access to state funds.
This is because the main and more comprehensive instrument, Salix Funding, is only available to schools in the public sector. Academies will need to apply to a narrower Condition Improvement Fund (CIF).
Salix provides 100% interest-free capital to schools (as well as FE and HE) to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. The money is available year-round and covers a full range of technology.
The CIF, managed by the Education Funding Agency, is a fund open only once a year, with the emphasis on high needs, which can often simply translate into fixing buildings that are decrepit. While this is laudable, it misses an opportunity to transform school environments, making them brighter, lighter, more cost-effective and more sustainable.
Given that schools in the UK consume around £400 million a year in energy, the need to reduce consumption is clear.
We have worked with many schools to help them improve their learning spaces, mainly through the retrofitting of energy-saving lighting. The specification needs careful thought and attention to detail as badly manufactured LED too often provides harsh, low quality light, with a negative effect on learning.
Well manufactured LED lighting, in contrast, can make a remarkable impact on whole-school environments in three ways.
First, lighting can be substantially and sustainably improved – for example by replacing flickering fluorescents with bright, clear, flicker-free LED tubes and panels.
Second, electricity costs are reduced by up to 80% and the long life of LED ensures that maintenance costs are minimal, with additional benefits for health & safety.
Third, the school’s carbon footprint is permanently reduced with associated opportunities to educate pupils on environmental issues.
Schools we have worked with have benefited by replacing aged and poor-quality lighting from old tubes, bulbs, downlights. Now many schools across the country will face new demands from government, which wants a quarter of secondary schools to extend the day and provide further extra-curricular activities such as sport and art.
While there is new funding allocated, that clearly means additional energy and other utility costs. It may also have wide implications for design as these hundreds of schools will need to respond to needs of “new customers”.
To contain cost increases, schools would need to address lighting (including lighting controls), water use, heating costs and effective pumps for example.
Schools spend a total of around £70 million a year on water and a large secondary school can spend as much as £20,000 per year this utility, according to Water Watch.
Effective water management through better design of facilities could save larger schools up to £5,000 a year, for example through deployment of water-saving toilets/urinals, efficient taps and showers.
I’ve focused on the compulsory education sector because of the Budget bombshell on academies but there are lessons from our work and opportunities for energy-efficient design in FE and HE.
Costs in both continue to rise and funding for FE in particular is tight. The combined sectors consume energy with a cost of approximately £400 million annually with CO2 emissions of around 3 million tonnes a year.
The Revolving Green Fund in Higher Education is helping to promote energy efficient design and upgrades while Salix funding is available for energy-efficient projects in FE.
For all sectors, budgets will continue to be stretched as numbers and demand rise over the next decade. Schools and FE in particular will need help to improve and even maintain their learning environments. Whether that will be available is uncertain now, given the Chancellor’s announcements.
Keep a look out for our April Mix Interiors where we focus on the education sector.
Mark Sait is CEO of SaveMoneyCutCarbon