Learning lessons in energy efficiency from the star performers

Energy and the environment are key topics on the educational curriculum for children as young as seven, but the schools in which they are learning account for a major proportion of energy usage in non-domestic buildings across the UK. This was a keynote finding in a pioneering survey into energy efficiency within the education sector in England and Wales by LessEn, the free global building energy efficiency initiative created by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

Here, Robert De Jong, LessEn programme manager at the ULI, explains the findings, outlines how Dorset topped the table through its sustainable property team and provides schools with tips on how to become more energy efficient.

The LessEn league table
Last year, we analysed data provided by 11,993 primary and secondary schools in England and Wales that have been granted a DEC (Display Energy Certificate) rating.

The data ranked 152 local authorities with more than 10 school buildings per local authority. Of the schools involved in the LessEn League Table, only 29 (under 0.24 per cent) achieved an A rating. In contrast, 1,703 (14 per cent) were given the lowest rating of G.

DECs provide an energy rating of a building from A to G, where A is very efficient and G is the least efficient. These ratings were based on the actual amount of metered energy used by the building over a period of 12 months. Over half the public buildings on the England and Wales DEC database were schools.

The analysis clearly pointed towards a sizeable challenge to schools. But rather than focus on the problems, we turned to the best performing schools to understand what others could learn from their energy efficiency strategies and celebrate the champions.

Top of the class
At the top of the league was Dorset County Council. Schools within its area account for 60 per cent of the council’s carbon emissions and Dorset has made reducing energy a priority for over 30 years. It can demonstrate by investing money in energy conservation and by tracking data going back to 1978, it has made clear progress towards reducing its fuel bills.

Mike Petitdemange, principal engineer for the Sustainable Property Team at the council, said: “We can demonstrate that our annual energy costs would have amounted to £4.6 million more if we had continued to consume fuel at the same rate that we were 30 years ago.

“Schools account for a major proportion of energy usage in Dorset and we are proud that our efforts have resulted in a good DEC rating, but we are always pushing to improve upon this.”

These steps include improving procurement of gas and electricity, automatic energy data capture and analysis, awareness programmes in schools to engage staff and pupils, and close liaison with LessEn partner the Carbon Trust, to develop workable energy efficiency strategies.

Of the top 20 local authorities in the LessEn League Table, the majority are in rural rather than urban locations. Exceptions to this are Richmond upon Thames, Stockton-on-Tees and Hillingdon. However, there are huge differences to be seen even in neighbouring local authorities. In London for example, the average DEC rating in Islington is 93, which puts it into the D band, while Haringey is in the F band and Hackney and Camden are G rated.

Ultimately, the evidence of sound investment is clear: Dorset has an average DEC rating of C, and tops the LessEn table.

The Dorset story
There has been an energy team in Dorset County Council since the mid 1970s – before carbon reduction and climate change were in the headlines the main focus was on saving money. To this end, standard energy conservation measures were undertaken with a focus on quick paybacks. These included insulating lofts and cavities, draught-proofing, removing tungsten lighting and later changing T12 fluorescents for more efficient T8s and T5s. Hot water production was made more efficient and boiler controls were improved.

The team eventually settled on the TREND building management system (BMS) which allowed the council to calculate what its buildings consume, in order to more effectively manage energy.

There is a limit, however, to what a small team can achieve, so relationships were formed with other groups, such as the maintenance and design teams to maximise initiatives. For example funding the marginal cost of upgrading insulation when a flat roof is being replaced, or paying for the TREND controller in a boiler replacement project.

Data and analysis
Dorset County Council receives and pays fuel bills centrally on behalf of schools, therefore there is an opportunity to capture data. At first this was carried out using the mainframe, but later investments were made in the TEAM Energy Accounting Software and now the system receives electronic billing, which is checked and paid, while the data is captured for reporting purposes.

Even well designed schools will consume large amounts of energy if they are not used properly. Various methods are therefore employed to raise awareness and change occupant behaviour. For example, theatre companies regularly tour in secondary and primary schools to raise awareness of energy saving and to encourage the emotional involvement of pupils. A Light Monitors Pack – a free self help guide for schools – provides groups of pupils with badges, stickers and log books. These pupils then patrol their schools during break and lunch times, turning off unnecessary lights and recording their efforts.

Dorset County Council also has an in-house sustainability team to develop policies and coordinate activity, which has proved very successful. This put the authority in a strong position to take part in various initiatives and bid for additional funds.

Schools carbon reduction scheme
Since September 2010, Dorset has focused on energy saving in 20 pilot schools. These schools have been monitoring their weekend and day-time consumption and are developing their own approach to managing their consumption.

Along with the installation of Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) some schools have been provided with energy monitoring equipment that displays real time electricity consumption. By closely monitoring their usage, pupils can see the immediate effect of turning lights and IT equipment off and are encouraged to see that each one of them can make a real difference.

The experience of the scheme is already being shared with other Dorset schools and it is hoped that the pilot can be developed into a full programme of work next year.

Finding funds and sharing success
Success in building energy efficiency for Dorset has allowed the council to recently gain INTERREG IIIC funding to work on a three-year schools carbon reduction project which complements their own scheme. INTERREG IIIC is an EU-funded programme that helps Europe’s regions form partnerships to work together on common projects. Dorset will use this funding to work in collaboration with Devon and Wiltshire Councils and two French authorities from Northern France – Conseil General des Cotes d’Armor and Lannion Tregor Agglomeration – LTA (a consortium of town councils).

Ten tips for more energy efficient schools
As well as being good financially, making school buildings more energy efficient creates an environment that is good for students and staff and good for the environment.

At LessEn we are helping to guide schools to become more energy efficient as cost effectively as possible. With our key knowledge partner, Arup, we have created a ten point checklist to help schools make all the right grades.


  • Identify your school’s energy rating: You will find your School Display Energy Certificate rating on the League Table or the LessEn Energy Map. If you use an iPhone, Android or Blackberry smart phone, you can also use the LessEn app (free to download from www.less-en.org). It shows your school’s most recent energy rating and CO2 emissions data. You can also share comments about the school building, and explore ways to improve its energy performance.
  • Improve your rating: Find out if there is a working group on energy. If not, set one up and appoint a leader. The most successful groups include the school’s leadership, technical staff, governors, parents, support staff and students. Make raising your DEC rating your aim and report your results monthly join the Eco Schools programme - www.eco-schools.org.uk
  • Start with the simple stuff: Are outside lights on during daylight hours? Are computers switched off at night? Is lighting or heating left on overnight, during weekends or during holiday periods? Appoint class monitors for lights, blinds and heating. Bring teachers and students to work together to understand energy and check that the heating and lighting systems switch off during periods of no use. Leaving heating on over Christmas can result in a ten per cent increase in heating related energy bills.
  • Get to know how your building works: Could it be keeping you warmer or stopping you overheating? Regularly review your buildings and assess where you could be losing heat in winter or storing too much heat during the summer.
  • Build relationships with partners who can help: Contact your local authority, local sustainability organisations and energy provider. Opportunities that may be available include funding, training, collaboration work with other schools as well as advice from energy and property experts on energy efficiency strategies.
  • Become more energy smart: Install smart meters, obtain an energy audit and set up sub-metering. You can obtain the energy data you need by reading your meters weekly or daily and using the results not just to improve performance by identifying ways to save energy, but also to raise awareness and understanding in the curriculum, and create behaviour change with teachers, students and building managers, for example, you can include energy management in maths, business and science lessons.
  • Check out your kit: Arrange for your caretaker orfacilities manager to review and commission systems in the building to ensure that they are running as efficiently as possible. This will not only help you run your school in a more energy efficient way, but also potentially increase the life of your equipment.
  • Replace and upgrade: Install low-cost energy saving technologies such as low energy lights, energy efficient heating and variable speed pumps. Ideally, develop a programme to replace older, less energy efficient equipment with low energy alternatives.
  • Go bright green: When you have done the basics explore ways to generate clean energy through renewable technologies, such as solar, wind and biomass. Local authorities may have funding available to support this and our partners at 10:10 campaign can point you in the right direction. You can vist 10:10 at www.1010global.org/uk
  • Get out your tambourines: It’s time to celebrate your success – obtain your new DEC rating by contacting your schools energy manager, building manager or local authority and boldly share your success story with all your staff, pupils, local authority and neighbouring schools. Then get in touch with LessEn to share your success and become an active part in the schools’ programme.


About LessEn
LessEn is a movement with a clear ambition to reduce the energy consumption of existing non-domestic buildings. The organisation has a simple plan: point to the problem and then point to the solution – share the best ideas, products and opportunities.

LessEn has an attitude: challenging, optimistic, transparent – to inspire people to do better, to inspire the best to share their stories.

Based around a website www.less-en.org, LessEn showcases best practice through events, campaigns and a current knowledge bank of case studies, policy summaries, energy efficiency products and building efficiency news.

LessEn was created by the Urban Land Institute, a non-profit research and education organisation, representing the entire spectrum of land use and real estate development disciplines.

For more information