Energy is the second theme that schools undertake during the Green-Schools programme.
Fossil fuels, the source of much of our energy, are formed under intense pressure and heat over millions of years from the buried remains of plants and animals. By burning these fossil fuels to release heat from the chemical energy they contain, steam can be raised in a power station boiler. The heat and pressure energy in the steam is turned into work in a turbine, which drives a generator to produce electricity.
However, by burning fossil fuels we are releasing carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere faster than plants can absorb it. CO2 is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect; as more fuels are burnt, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 increases, causing the average global temperature to rise. Climate change affects the distribution of climatic regions, sea level changes and ultimately, the planet’s ability to support human communities. Burning fossil fuels also contributes to acid rain, which is implicated in the loss of wildlife in lakes and rivers, the reduction of land fertility and the destruction of trees.
However, there are certain steps we can take to start on our way to reducing our energy consumption at home and in school. Energy surveys are a great way to identify the amount of energy used in the school, and can highlight areas where changes and improvements can be made. There are many simple low and no-cost tips that can be carried out to increase efficient use of energy.
As with litter and waste, there are four stages to tackling energy:
1. Analyse the problem
Before you even start to think about the solution you need to find out more about the problem. Carry out an energy audit by looking at past bills (i.e. electricity, gas, oil). Can you estimate the energy consumption of the school? (N.B. this will need to be measured in such a way that you can compare with the results of future monitoring). Are there any areas around the school where energy is being lost unnecessarily? Surveys could be carried out to assess draughts and ventilation, windows and doors (are they being left open and releasing heat?), lighting and appliances (are they left on when they can be switched off?), radiators and thermostats (could room temperatures be lower?). What / where are the biggest sources of energy waste?
2. Devise an action plan
Once you understand the problem you have to think of ways to solve it. Try to involve as many people as possible. From that brainstorming list work out the sensible ideas. You should start with "no-cost" (i.e. "switch it off" campaign, adjusting thermostats and heaters) and "low-cost" (replacing incandescent bulbs with CFL bulbs) solutions. If it can be shown that these actions have helped reduce energy consumption and costs, perhaps some of these savings can be reinvested in to some of more expensive solutions for energy reduction.
3. Measuring success
You must plan from the beginning how you will measure the success of your energy management. This should include some form of regular monitoring, which will be detailed in your action plan (i.e. how/when/who will carry it out). Remember also to compare like with like – energy consumption for February will probably be higher than the previous September, no matter what improvements and changes in awareness have been made during that time! When looking at electricity / oil consumption, try to measure your consumption per m2 of the school, or per student. Also, make sure to display the details and results of your monitoring– graphs and charts are excellent for visualising changes over time. You cannot manage what you do not measure!
The most difficult thing is maintaining the reduced energy consumption levels, in particular as it is not as visible an issue as litter and waste. You will know from your regular monitoring if and when changes in energy consumption (up or down) occur. As time goes on you may need to adjust your action plan to help maintain the success of your energy management, and to continually promote awareness.