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The Economic and Educational Value of Retrofitting Schools


By Lizzie Rivera at Green Futures

With the potential to reduce carbon consumption by more than 50%, and make £120,000 a year, retrofitting its school is an investment that Impington Village College, near Cambridge in England, can't afford not to make. Especially given that its annual carbon emissions – currently at 101.33kgCO2/m2 – are double the national average.

The retrofit will require an investment of £1 million. It's not a sum many schools have in their coffers – it is challenging for academies to engage in financial leases. The solution is an Energy Performance Contract (EPC) with Skanska, the contractor, who will fund the upfront costs through private investment, and expect to recoup the outlay over a seven-year period, through a combination of savings on bills and revenue generated through the sale of any surplus energy, drawing on government incentives. Once the investment has been paid off, the additional revenue should – Skanska estimates – bring the school an additional £3 million over the following 15 years. If the savings don't add up, Skanska will assume the shortfall.

It's an attractive offer. But, says Vice Principal Fran Difranco, it was the educational benefits that really sold the retrofit project to the school governors.

Three biomass boilers, due to be installed over the summer holidays, will provide 85% of the thermal load usually supplied by gas, reducing carbon emissions by an estimated 30% and generating  £60,000 a year through sales. But Difranco is equally pleased with the vision panels to be added to the boilers. The pupils will be able to see exactly how they work, and follow the energy trail from the boiler to the swimming pool, as well as analyse the data in the classroom.

Replacing all lamp fittings with low-wattage lights or LEDs will reduce carbon emissions by a further 10%, and smart meters will enable the school and Skanska to analyse the energy usage and decide whether further changes are required.  "Predicting energy usage based on standardised behaviours is fairly accurate, but nothing compares to using real data [generated by the occupants]", says Skanska's Associate Director, Richard Byers.

"And it's a fantastic way to engage the students", says Difranco.

Screens around the college will display the energy peaks and troughs throughout the day, and students will collect and interpret this data as part of their science and maths classes.

Global Action Plan (GAP), which has worked with 3,000 schools over 20 years, has been asked to provide a behaviour change programme.  Teaching students to turn off lights and computer screens has been shown to yield between 3 and 10% annual carbon savings, but the benefits reach further than this.  In a survey following one of GAP's sustainability programmes, 83% of teachers reported improved self-esteem in pupils. Following another project, students worked with Ealing Council to improve its waste collections.

"What is really interesting is being able to create a dialogue around retrofit and sustainability between teachers, pupils and the local authorities", says Sandrine Dixson-Declève, a director of the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. "It can create a real paradigm shift in terms of local authority buy in and action on the ground."

As was the case for the De Kariboe school in the Netherlands. With local and governmental support it was able to do a full rebuild, from solar panels to compost patches.  The school is now used as a centre for cultural exchange, and its redesigned gardens are open to the public.

De Kariboe and Impington Village College are both piloting the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership's carbon reduction toolkit, Atlas, which Skanska was heavily involved in developing. Students input data on mobility or gas usage into the web-based system, and discover ways to reduce their carbon footprint. The toolkit can be used at home to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions there too.

As Difranco says, "The retrofit is proving almost boundless in terms of its educational benefits."

This article originally appeared in Green Futures, the magazine of independent sustainability experts Forum for the Future.