Reducing Costs

4 Ways Schools Can Save Money on Energy

Schools spend $8 billion on energy each year, but there are ways to save, starting with billing and consumption audits.

You don't have to be a statistician to know that energy costs have been fluctuating rapidly in the past year. You're reminded every time you stop for gas or pay your home's electricity bill. 

For schools and districts, these price increases are magnified. Across the country, school districts spend some $8 billion on energy each year. And while this expenditure typically only rises to 4% of a school's overall costs, the recent increases have forced administrators to allocate more money toward these line items in the budget. 

There isn't much school leaders can do to halt the increase in oil costs or stem the rising electricity prices, but that doesn't mean they are powerless. In fact, school leaders across the country are shrinking their energy costs without impacting classroom instruction. 

Schools from the Sun Belt to the Windy City have made modifications that have saved money, in some cases freeing up district funds to hire more teachers. The good news is that there's no one template to follow — modify any number of factors, from quick changes to longer-term solutions, to find savings. 

Conduct an Energy Billing Audit

There are two types of audits schools can — and should — undertake. A billing audit is self-explanatory. This is a way to find hidden savings through billing errors or by finding high energy rates. Be clear that this audit is not designed to change practices or policies. A good energy audit team will scour a school's energy contracts and invoices to make sure a school is paying the lowest amount for the service it receives. If your school exists in a deregulated energy market, choosing the right provider can be a time-intensive task yet can save a lot of money. 

Conduct a Consumption Audit

This is the companion to the billing audit. Consumption audits detail actual energy use, breaking that usage down so that possible efficiencies stand out more easily. A wide range of solutions might be apparent, some involving major capital expenditures. While upgrades and new equipment demand upfront costs, don't forget that newer devices are typically more energy efficient, which means a net energy savings over the long haul. 

For instance, the small Seaford School District in Delaware simply created a new thermostat setting for its six schools. The district was able to slice 3% off its energy bill for every degree changed in the thermostats. At the other end of the spectrum, Ohio's Southwest Licking School District was able to spend $1.6 million in infrastructure improvements by using the savings they earned from energy-efficient upgrades. 

Automate Your Technology Management

Simply put, the days of drawing up an energy guideline for staff, making copies, and then hoping your recommendations are followed are over. The percent of students with school-issued computers has doubled to above 80% just since the pandemic began in 2020. That means there is a lot more technology in every school. More technology means more power usage. The more advanced IT management solutions on the market today can produce a rough calculation of what the school is spending on energy usage that feed into a school-wide power management policy. Putting an end to haphazard power management can make a significant difference in actual usage. 

Look for Programs That Reward Energy Savings

School leaders should also look for programs that will pay them for saving energy. The EPA has a 60-page guide that points out not only the benefits of these programs, but also how to plan and adapt these programs for your schools. 

One district that used this method, the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas, earned more than $600,000 in incentives through the CenterPoint Energy SCORE (Schools Conserving of Resources' Energy) program. In addition to the incentives, the district estimates it will save $7 million over 10 years, allowing it to hire 140 additional teachers.

From these examples, districts large or small do have options either with quick fixes or dramatic overhauls to bank long-term energy savings. Starting can be as easy as implementing a district-wide power management plan or as complicated as upgrading equipment, installing solar panels, or switching to electric school buses. 

About the Author

Al Kingsley is the CEO of NetSupport. He is an author, podcaster, chair of Multi Academy Trust cluster of schools in the UK, Apprenticeship Ambassador, and chair of his regional Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Board. And has written books on ed tech, governance and school growth.