Rethink your energy strategy

It’s not easy to decarbonise your school when funding is limited. But developing an energy strategy is an important step towards cutting waste, freeing up cash and allowing you to explore further options

By 2050, schools are expected to become net zero carbon consumers. As part of this, they have been advised to develop an energy management strategy which will deliver cost and carbon savings. Academies have been set specific targets of reducing consumption by 15% and emissions by 40% by 2030.

Yet many schools still don’t know exactly when, where and how they are consuming energy, meaning that valuable resources and money are being wasted. Clearly this impacts on bills, particularly when energy prices are so volatile. Indeed, energy costs are often the second highest annual expenditure for schools after wages.

The good news is that it’s possible to make savings of upwards of 20% through carbon reduction and energy efficiency measures. While older buildings may be more difficult to retro-fit, even the simplest measures can make a difference. From draft-proofing windows to improvements in your energy infrastructure, there are options to suit all budgets and schools.


FundEd has collaborated with school funding consultant Tim Warneford to guide you through the process of how to plan an energy strategy, Solar for Schools director Ann Flaherty takes a look at what makes a zero-carbon building, and TG Escapes Eco-Buildings consultant Mark Brown explores the funding options for solar power and profile successful school case studies.


A guide to developing an energy strategy

It needn’t be a daunting task, and the benefits – environmental and financial – are more than worth it, says Tim Warneford

Current costs and consumption

Your first step should be to understand how much energy your school is using, and identify when and where this usage occurs. You can collect data by attaching ‘loggers’ to distribution boards, and by installing smart meters. This will allow you to profile consumption patterns, as well as identifying any unnecessary peaks or times that trigger a higher rate. Do this both in and out of term time to compare data.

Once you have the data, you can assess the effectiveness of your current installations. The age and condition of your school buildings could have a significant impact, but even new systems may be operating inefficiently if they are set to factory settings that no one knows how to change. We’ve even come across situations where kitchen systems turn themselves on on Sundays!

Take a careful look at the terms and conditions of your existing energy contracts. It’s all too common for schools not to know whether their gas and electricity contract is fixed or flexible, or what the half-hourly rates are. Schools in the local authority framework are often seen as soft targets by energy suppliers, and SBMs with no background in energy procurement can be exploited in what is largely an unregulated sector of the market. Some may even discover they have no access to their energy contract, having negotiated with a broker.

To determine whether your current rates are competitive, test the market and see what a range of suppliers can offer your school. Look for hidden clauses (where suppliers will put you on the highest rate when the contract ends). If you have a renewable energy installation, then watch out for ‘volume tolerance’ clauses, which require schools to use a percentage of their calculated energy consumption or pay a penalty. A consultancy can renegotiate your contract to ensure you are on a standard tariff and that any restrictions on leaving are removed.

Involve and engage

It’s crucial to embed new values of energy conservation and efficiency among staff and pupils. So, gather ideas from across the school community, provide targets and assign leaders to help drive your strategy forward. Consider running culture change seminars and interactive pupil workshops.


Having identified areas of waste and inefficiency, you can now address them to make your existing energy infrastructure more effective. What changes can you make to give you quick, low-cost wins? This might be as straightforward as installing thermostats and communicating the importance of turning off all switches when not in use.

Prioritise and implement

It’s important to assess which options will provide the best fit for your building and circumstances. Every school is different: some might start by installing simple low-carbon technologies such as LED lighting, whereas for others it can make more sense to develop a comprehensive plan for renewable installations and clean energy tariffs.

Schools received little of the government funding for decarbonising public buildings in the first round of the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme (PSDS), which replaced the Salix energy fund. This may have been because the PSDS focus appeared to be on initiatives such as air and ground source heat pump systems, which are difficult to retro fit.

With applications for the second PSDS round now closed, many schools are considering the growing range of funding alternatives offered by private renewable installers. CIF funding is also available for the large MATs.

Always focus on what will reap the most reward for the smallest investment. The average-sized primary school, for instance, could save £4,000 to £6,000 a year simply by switching to LED lighting, with a large secondary school saving as much as £3,000 a month. Funding options from installers mean it’s possible to avoid upfront costs and instead pay a fixed service fee for the length of the contract.

Installing solar PV panels can shave a quarter to a third off a school’s electricity bill, especially with an LED lighting installation, leading to savings of more than £125,000 for a typical primary school over the life of the system. Many schools avoid the upfront costs of planning and installation by renting their roofs to suppliers, and are able to generate income by selling electricity back to the grid.

Installing charging points for electric vehicles supports broader carbon reduction targets and can help your school generate income.


Make sure you can gauge the success of the initiatives you are implementing by recording the Return on Investment (ROI) and levels of carbon reduction. This will inform your future planning and target setting. Do continue to communicate what is being achieved to your school community as it encourages engagement and buy-in on multiple levels.

  • Tim Warneford is a school funding consultant, working in conjunction with the Lloyds Bank education team to create bespoke energy strategies for academy trusts. He has facilitated CIF bids that include survey, installation, design, maintenance and training.


Rules for large academies

The Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) requires large academy trusts to report their carbon emissions and provide evidence of year-on-year reductions. Known as Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR), this data must be included in the annual accounts return for trusts of more than two secondary or five primary schools, and those with assets of more than £18m.


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