Energy smart schools

From new build developments to our aged schools estate, Chris Meir, National Sales Manager at Remeha Commercial, discusses the significant energy, carbon and financial savings to be made by schools and local authorities from low-carbon, energy-efficient heating

It’s been a turbulent few years for the educational sector. Despite the introduction of academies and free schools, there have been increasing concerns that there are insufficient school places for UK children and that a large percentage of our existing schools are in dire need of repair, a fact which has been linked to recent asbestos problems.

However, the government has announced that as part of its Priority School Building Programme, 261 schools will be rebuilt or have their condition needs met with the first school due to be completed in 2014 and all schools delivered by the end of 2017. The Education Funding Agency stated in May that 46 schools are to be rebuilt using private finance under the PSBP with a total funding of approximately £700 million. More recently, the government committed to building 45 new schools and expanding 333 more with capital funding of £820m through its Targeted Basic Need Programme.

While this appears to be moving the right direction, ever-rising energy costs are a prime concern for all our schools.

Local authorities and business managers of our aged schools estate would do well to take advantage of the £10bn recently allocated to school repairs to put in place energy-saving measures wherever possible to improve the efficiency of their buildings and bring significant savings.

Heating is a good place to start as, together with hot water generation, it accounts for a third of the nation’s energy consumption and around 40 per cent of our carbon emissions, according to the Carbon Trust. By reducing its energy consumption, a school can lower its utility bills and greenhouse gas emissions, which will help towards meeting its environmental commitments.

For the majority of these old buildings, the nature of the heating system in place will often preclude the use of renewable energy technologies. Few would deny that the simplest, most cost-effective way to achieve rapid and significant reductions in energy bills and emissions is to replace old existing boilers with a modern condensing gas boiler, as Farley Junior School in Luton discovered. The school more than halved its energy usage through a two-phase retrofit solution designed by VSRW. VSRW specified Remeha condensing boilers on a cascade system to replace the school’s atmospheric boilers as the first phase of the project, with low temperature radiators and fan heaters added a year later.

“The low temperature heating allows the boilers to operate at the reduced maximum temperature of 50/40⁰C, achieving maximum efficiency and energy savings at lower installation costs than conventional systems,” explained VSRW Consultant Rob Windrum. “We have found this system to be particularly suitable for schools as the added benefit of the low temperatures is the removal of any scald hazard from exposed pipework.”

Farley Junior School’s energy data shows that gas consumption at the school plummeted from 660,995kWh to 273,148kWh with carbon savings in the region of 53 tonnes a year. As Councillor Waheed Akbar, Portfolio Holder for children’s services at Luton Borough Council, pointed out, this benefits the school in real terms. “The financial savings from reduced utility bills go straight to the school, benefitting the town’s pupils.”

At new build developments where budgets will not stretch to the more expensive renewable technologies, heat recovery systems that recover otherwise wasted energy for the benefit of space heating are an affordable, greener heating alternative, as M&E Consultant Simon Luff of F.P Hurley & Sons discovered at Taunton Academy in Somerset.

The Academy was carrying out an ambitious £11m extension of its original site. The Governing Board was keen to see an exemplary sustainable approach applied throughout the specification process for the new building. Amendments to Part L of the Building Regulations for new-build developments required an overall improvement in the annual carbon emission rate of 25 per cent relative to 2006 standards. “Remeha’s Quinta Eco Plus was the favoured solution to meeting the school’s requirement for environmentally-friendly, sustainable heating and our need to comply with the carbon reduction requirements of Part L,” said Mr Luff. “It will also mean considerably lower operating bills for the academy from now on.”

For refurbishment projects too, this ‘super condensing’ heat recovery system of Remeha’s scores high, offering even greater carbon and energy savings in old buildings by allowing even old heating systems to achieve maximum combustion efficiency at all times regardless of the primary flow and return temperatures and recovering energy from these old systems that take more energy to heat.

As a nation, we are targeted with generating more energy from renewable sources. So, budgets and the nature of the school building permitting, it is worth looking to take advantage of the government funding available from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) to help with the initial investment.

Biomass heating using woodchips or pellets is a low carbon alternative that has seen a huge uptake in the educational sector and is predicted to contribute around a third of the UK’s mandatory renewable energy by 2020. Using solid biomass for heating typically gives reductions in carbon of around 80 to 90 per cent compared with fossil fuel alternatives.

At South Lanarkshire Council in Scotland, we have introduced biomass systems into over twenty of its new-build primary schools as part of its Primary Schools Modernisation Programme. Not only do the biomass boilers help the schools meet their carbon requirements, but the Council expects to receive significant funding of around £0.25m annually from RHI payments.

The educational value of biomass heating is also highly prized in this sector. At Ringmer Community College in West Sussex, for example, the biomass boiler is valued not only for the part it plays in reducing the eco-college’s carbon input and energy usage, but to prepare its students for a sustainable future.

The technology is here to deliver energy-efficient heating that will help relieve already strained school budgets with rapid financial savings. At Remeha Commercial we look forward to introducing energy-saving heating into our new build and existing schools estate and help the nation move towards a low-carbon future.

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