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Sustainability & environmental education charity webinar

Nov 25, 2012

I am delighted to be able to share some notes I took from a recent webinar I attended which was run by SEEd.

The Sustainability and Environmental Education charity (SEEd) has been set up and is run to identify, promote, enable and support environmental education in the UK. Through a series of webinars they aim to reach out to a wider audience.

In their most recent webinar we heard from Keith Webber, a teacher at Okehampton College, Devon. He has been getting his school to move from energy efficiencies to new technologies and from costs savings to making money for the school.

Keith revealed that the College was sometimes spending upwards of £1000 a day on gas and electricity and that now, due to measures in place, this has reduced to a maximum of £400 a day and sometimes cost nothing at all.

I particularly like the fact that the school has a ‘Word of the Week’ and that last week this word was sustainable. The idea of ‘Word of the Week’ is that it is used throughout all of the lessons in the school with the aim that all the pupils understand its meaning. They were asked to think of three things they’re going to do to make the school and their home more sustainable.

One of the other ways they involved the pupils is through an exercise for one class group where they went through the school and took the temperature in each of the classrooms. They then produced a temperature distribution map – red rooms too hot, green rooms just right and blue too cold. This is just a snapshot so it needs to be done frequently to see which rooms are regularly too hot and too cold etc. You then need to work out how to redistribute the heat from the hot rooms to the cold rooms. A building management system obviously makes this much easier. The question is also “What’s a reasonable temperature?”. And for that you need to ask. The temperature gauge doesn’t tell you what people think. Experts will tell you that 18 or 19 degrees is about right and this is what Keith found.

Keith shared statistics which showed a 50% reduction in electricity and gas consumption over the past 5 years. A lot of this is down to measurement of energy usage – it’s hard to reduce it if you don’t know what you’re using.

Monitoring – if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it. All their gas meters are on AMR so that data is collected automatically and transmitted. £13 per meter cost but more than this saved in reduced admin costs. Also enables you to monitor gas consumption. You can even drill down to half hourly data showing when the gas is burning. In the case of Okehampton this shows that the burners are firing up significantly at the beginning of the day to heat the school up initially – it shows that the burners are working at the right times.

The school has invested a lot in measurement with electricity taken further than gas. They can now see what they are spending in each room in the school. It was quite incredible to see that the breakdown went as far as what was actually switched on in the room i.e. which sockets were on, what lights were on and even what time they went on! Big brother is most definitely watching you! Everyone has access to this information; all the teachers, pupils and support staff.

A further monitoring device (via Enistic) showed what was happening with the electricity consumption as a whole for the College. This showed that consumption was, in fact, negative. This is obviously what the College is looking for as it means that rather than using electricity they are actually supplying it back to the grid. This is due to the extensive solar PV installations they have which are about to be further complemented by two wind turbines. This means that they hope to be able to push the meter backwards even during the school day/term time.

Their electricity supplier is EDF and they requested EnergyView so that they had Automatic Meter Readings. Gas supplied by Gazprom and they also have a package which they can provide readings/data.

Weekends/evening there is a surplus of electricity and they are just starting to work with some companies to explore solutions which will enable them to store the surplus so that they can then sustain themselves through the next day.

By knowing your load distribution i.e. when the peaks and troughs of your consumption are and what that consumption level is you are then able to make sensible decisions on the level of PV panels and/or wind turbines you need.

Okehampton are now looking at displacing gas with a biomass wood pellet heating system as soon as the funding is in. A lot of survey work has already been done on what would work. The product they are planning on using parks next to the existing boiler house. It’s essential to keep the existing gas boilers as a back-up. The hot water produced feeds across to the heating distribution pipes in the existing boiler house. Wood pellets burn first and for big demand the gas is then used. Local supply chain as there is a company who produce these wood pellets.

One question was raised about biomass problems and associated carbon monoxide problems. The questioner had heard bad stories. Keith concurred with this but caveated it by saying that he has also seen some good examples and good installations. When he was considering a biomass boiler he asked the potential supplier to show him some successful installations. One of these was Exeter University – they are very pleased with it. It’s also worth remembering that there are also some terrible examples of gas installations and that they too can create carbon monoxide problems. It comes down to how experienced and how good the installers are. Choosing reliable experienced operators and the right boiler is key. There are a lot of firms jumping on the bandwagon and claiming to be experts so it’s worth checking their credentials.

Another question asked was whether the school are able to get wood pellets locally to prevent them being shipped in from the US on oil burning ships! Keith’s research is that we are a net exporter of wood pellets as there’s not a big enough domestic market for it yet. On the flip side we are importing gas from Russia. My experience totally concurs with this.

Boiler issues when have to turn off in the summer? I’ve not heard of that. Run the fuel supply down so you have the minimum amount in there over the summer. Need to heat hot water so will always need something so the biomass boiler will not be shut down.

Keith recommends talking to your energy company as they will have funding available for green products. It’s a competitive process and you will need to bid for funds through a business plan submission. EDF GreenFund is one which Okehampton College have utilised – grants of up to £30k for renewable projects in schools. It’s not just funds either they can send people in to talk to the pupils, for example, which encourages sustainability. They also put Okehampton in touch with other schools across the continent and there are education resources available through the POD. They also installed the AMR on the meters they supply. Lots of support and they’ve been incredibly helpful.

Control – using a Building Management System. It’s all well and good monitoring it but you also need to be able to control it and this is where a Building Management System comes into its own. This helps prevent things like heat being generated only to have air conditioning units cooling the rooms down. All boilers are linked to a computer network. You can see through the computer what’s happening, make changes etc. In the case of the College this shows that the heating is not permanently on throughout the day. It used to be and the school just got hotter and hotter and people regulated this by opening windows. By not having it on permanently, and having gaps, this is prevented. The system is very clever because if the temperature does go below a certain level during these gaps the system automatically switches it back on. Keith pointed out that you might think that thermostats could do that but the reality is something different. Okehampton have 10 boiler rooms and controlling them from one computer is easy. Otherwise you might have to have a caretaker going around each boiler room which is very time consuming. BMS can be expensive but it will save you money which more than offsets the cost of the system. £20k – £30k to install but there are many schools spending £40k-£50k per annum on energy so there are huge potential benefits which can be realised very quickly. It also has the added benefit of improving the school learning environment i.e. classrooms too hot or too cold don’t help learning.

The system can be used to set up what temperatures you want to achieve. Knowing something about the building and where the sensors are is very helpful here. You can have a snapshot to temperatures at any given time as well as looking at the temperature variation during the day.

The potential to save is huge and it’s worth somebody keeping their eye on that. There’s a fine line to tread and does almost need monitoring every day as it is of course weather dependent. Heating going off at 5pm one day might be appropriate but not the following week when the external temperature has dropped significantly.

The school also had sensors which were in totally inappropriate places so they needed to change their locations to better reflect what was actually happening in the rooms.

You can retro fit a Building Management System in any type of building of any age. Choose which rooms you want sensors in. Sensors feed into school computer network and this then sends out signals to the boiler rooms.

Monitoring equipment was from Enistic. They sometimes want a % of the energy savings but in Keith’s case he said he wanted to do his own surveillance and management so said he just wanted a cost for provision of the logging equipment. You can, of course, use them to help and give you advice/recommendations.

Ecohounds also make simple monitoring equipment.

The BMS was from Trend and they can give you a list of licensed installers for Trend equipment. Nick Colton Controls – seems incredibly good value on installation of BMS and there is a huge variation on the installation costs. The complete system for Okehampton cost them about £6-£7k but they could have had something much simpler for about £2k.

Keith then covered off a few top tips:

1. Need to easily see and measure energy
2. Raise awareness and encourage behaviour change
3. Need to be able to control heating (BMS is ideal)
4. Do a regular work around and spot the obvious.
5. Really cold rooms – add extra radiators – this actually saves money!
6. Make sure everyone knows their room controls.
7. Encourage people to forward ideas/report issues.
8. Look for curriculum links e.g. climate change in geography, energy in science
9. Run/enter competitions and campaigns. (Some come with some serious prize money)!
10. Have an after school energy detectives club! Get the kids to leave green faces for good examples and red faces for bad. Some teachers stick the green faces above their whiteboards almost like a badge of honour!

Finally, Keith was asked about funding sources for the projects they have already completed.

Keith advised that for the 2008 installation of PV they got 50% of the cost from the Government’s Low Carbon Building Programme* along with matched funding EDF and the Community Sustainable Energy Programme* under the National Lottery.
EDF still do grants, as do all the other energy companies.

Some of the own school budgets have been used too. If you talk to DEC and Ofgem they confirm that you are allowed to use the school budget to purchase things like PV panels and still qualify for the Feed in Tariff.

All in all this was an extremely useful webinar for schools mainly because it was solution orientated and showed clearly the enormous financial benefits that are there for the taking.

Details of future webinars from SEE’d can be found here.

*Unfortunately this funding no longer exists.



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Category: Cost Savings

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