We spoke to Rich Hurst, Education Development Advisor for Durham County Council, about their School Carbon Reduction Programme and the effect it has had on the Council’s overall carbon emissions.
Durham County Council’s School Carbon Reduction Programme was initiated in 2009 and had an ambitious target to reduce carbon emissions from the authority’s activities by 40% by 2015. The plan identified the opportunities and sectors within the authority that were the biggest emitters, and schools were identified as being a key sector. At that time, they accounted for 54% of the emissions from the authority’s buildings, making them a priority area.
In early 2010, the Energy Management Team, working in conjunction with colleagues from the Education Service, approached the county-wide Schools Forum (a representative body for schools to act collaboratively and engage with topical issues) to fund a pilot project. This was approved and a pilot was launched at the end of the summer term 2010 to support up to 60 schools over two terms. Durham had over 280 schools at that time.
The aim was to work with keen schools to trial ideas and audit schools to enable a baseline to be determined. At this time data from the schools was limited; the Energy Team received energy and water billing invoice data and meter readings from school caretakers, which enabled billing queries and monitoring/auditing to be carried out, but detailed intelligence was limited. As capital investment opportunities weren’t available at that stage, the programme engaged key user groups in schools to alter their behaviour.
The authority worked with a partner charitable organisation OASES (Outdoor and Sustainability Education Specialists) to undertake the in-school element of the project using self-generated resources and materials produced by the Carbon Trust. The pilot focused on electricity use, as this was more easily acted upon by all school users (e.g. simple switch offs; use of ICT etc). These ‘quick wins’ quickly led to savings in the pilot schools, so we broadened the project by revamping the existing School Energy Service Level Agreement to include the in-school support. It did increase the costs slightly for schools but the results from the pilot identified that these costs could be easily recovered through savings.
As this was a much bigger programme, it was put out to tender for an initial 2 year period. Following a rigorous process, the OASES team won the contract and expanded it to engage more schools by allocating hours over the school year depending upon the school size and type.
Since that time the programme has supported over 260 Primary, Secondary and Special Schools to help them reduce their energy consumption and associated costs. The programme has developed a bespoke package of support for each school to meet their needs within a framework of delivery time. Each school is allocated a School Carbon Reduction (SCRP) Officer from the OASES team who produces an annual Summary Report highlighting energy and water consumption within the school using the 'SystemsLink' web-based monitoring tool. Access to SystemsLink and half hourly energy data through automated meter reads has transformed our approach, enabling much more detailed analysis of usage patterns and allowing alterations to heating systems and campaigns to be reviewed quickly.
This annual report informs a meeting with the head teacher and/or other senior leaders to establish any issues, and the requirements of the school in order to plan further support. In-school specialist educational support is flexible, providing curriculum-linked opportunities for a variety of different audiences (Staff meetings and training, whole classes or smaller groups? for example, Eco-Group or School Council). Alongside these learning opportunities, the SCRP Officer supports the School Business Manager and/or Caretaker to ensure the building management systems are appropriate and effective for the setting. For the past two heating seasons, there has been a specific focus on 'out of hours' gas use, both in term and holiday time, targeting high use schools. This has led to significant reductions in gas usage.
Additional benefits include whole school or year group 'Energy Carousels'. These day-long sessions are delivered by multiple OASES staff providing a range of energy and climate change-related workshops. These have proven to be particularly popular and effective with secondary schools. Many of the schools involved also use their SCRP support to deliver the compulsory 'Energy' element of the International Eco-Schools Awards Programme. There are 198 County Durham schools currently registered with Eco-Schools.
As an example, Prince Bishops Community Primary engaged from 2015 through a new Business Manager. Educational sessions and a whole school assembly took place, linking energy efficiency opportunities and global climate change issues. The school now has an active Eco-Group working towards their Eco-Schools Award. The Business Manager monitors the heating system closely and they have an automatic IT shutdown (after school hours). The school has also recently installed LED lighting (using Salix Funding). As a result, electricity use has dropped by 7% (and will reduce further once the full impact of LED is realised), and gas use has dropped by 14% over the last two years.
The programme relies upon close, effective working relationships between the partners. Schools that buy into the SLA benefit from the monitoring and validating of energy and water accounts, and the resolving of any utility billing issues. In addition, the Sustainability Education Advisor ensures that the strategic approach meets the changing need for schools, and coordinates opportunities for new initiatives that benefit schools. For example, solar for schools (funded solar PV programme), energy performance contracting (coming soon), and linking with EU programmes. To ensure effective partnership working, a termly meeting reviews progress made and agrees future priorities. In addition, informal discussions take place very regularly. The next phase will involve Energy Performance Contracting working through a national framework to enable significant minimal risk investment in energy efficiency technologies for high usage schools.
The programme’s impact has been significant. We have saved over £2.6 million against 'Business as Usual' predictions, and we have reductions of over 13,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide. Due to its success, the programme was the category winner in the Climate Change section of the County Durham Environment Awards in November 2016, recognising the collaborative approach of the programme and its excellent outcomes.
To find out more, email Rich Hurst.