New Guide Helps Schools Save Energy

school district energy savings, energy savings, energy efficiencyResearchers at Berkeley Lab developed a comprehensive guide to energy upgrades directed at school administrators and facilities managers.

The guide covers different options school directors can pursue for public and private financing and contains numerous case studies of school district projects with explanations of financial terms and mechanisms.

"Comprehensive energy efficiency upgrades for schools bring them a lot of benefits--the biggest might be that lower energy bills allow them to spend more money on hiring teachers and buying supplies," says Merrian Borgeson, a researcher in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division.

While public and private financing are available to help schools reduce energy costs, School administrators face the difficult task of navigating the complex landscape of energy efficiency grants, bonds and leasing agreements.

United States K-12 schools spend $6 billion annually on energy costs, much of which could instead be spent on educational supplies.

"The money spent on energy for schools is their second-highest operating expenditure after personnel costs--more money than is spent on textbooks and computers combined," Borgeson said.

Another significant benefit is that energy efficiency upgrades result in modernized infrastructure and lower maintenance costs--for example, through improved heating and cooling systems, energy-efficient windows and roofs, and better ventilation.

These energy upgrades also improve the comfort, health and safety of school buildings. Fixing hot and cold spots, leaky walls and roofs and broken windows reduces energy costs while improving the indoor environmental quality of the building.

Energy-efficient equipment is quieter and removes indoor pollutants affecting human cognitive ability. Removing mold and toxic materials provides a safer learning environment.

Williamson County School District in Tennessee entered into an energy savings performance contract with an energy services company and completed a $5.7 million lease-purchase agreement to fund a range of energy-related improvements across 27 school facilities.

The lease-purchase agreement helped reduce the barrier of up-front costs of the upgrades so that re-financing a year later benefitted both the district and taxpayers. The project will pay for itself in six and a half years, and continue saving money for the district long after that time.

Douglas County School District in Nevada used a combination of financial mechanisms to fund $10.7 million in upgrades. They tapped into federal Qualified School Construction Bonds, an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant, and voter-approved General Obligation bonds to fund a range of equipment and facility improvements.

"Most schools already have access to many of the financing tools they need to invest in these improvements," Borgeson said. "They just need to understand what the opportunities are, and tap into those opportunities."