Pupils' renewable energy display

In 2008 senior staff and governors at Hollybush school in Northern Ireland were becoming increasingly concerned about rising energy costs, in particular the increase in the price of oil used for heating and hot water. They decided that the solution lay in improving energy management to reduce consumption as well as investing in a biomass boiler to replace costly heating oil.

Hollybush is an excellent example of a whole-school approach to saving energy. An Eco-Committee, along with senior staff, has led the way to reduce energy demand. A sustainable energy policy is in place, along with a three year energy plan. These measures encourage sensible use of energy, highlight the need for regular monitoring and indicate areas for future investment. 

Hollybush’s refusal to give up in the face of challenges is impressive. It didn’t go running to its local authority to solve problems, it found its own solutions, with huge savings on energy bills as a result.

2013 Ashden Judging Panel

Promoting sustainable energy behaviour

Everyone has a role to play: the Principal and Deputy Principal promote energy saving amongst staff, and all teachers take responsibility for using energy appropriately in their classrooms. Pupil energy monitors are responsible for ensuring lights are switched off when not required, windows are closed and taps are not left dripping. At the end of each school day a ‘shut down’ check is carried out to ensure all internal lights and appliances are switched off. The caretaker ensures an excellent level of maintenance, checking systems are performing efficiently.

All staff, pupils and parents are kept aware of energy performance and achievements through assemblies, displays and newsletters and are encouraged to suggest new ways to reduce energy consumption

The Eco Team at Hollybush

Managing energy use in school buildings

The biggest impact on reducing carbon emissions and cost savings made by the school was the installation of a 99kW Austrian KWB wood pellet burning boiler in March 2011 to replace the increasingly expensive oil-fired heating system. In addition to replacing the oil-fired boiler, the biomass system heats a classroom that was previously heated electrically. Two energy efficient oil fired boilers provide back-up when required.

To complement the biomass installation a range of basic energy efficiency measures has been implemented. With the support of teachers and pupils, average temperatures in classrooms have gradually been reduced by up to three degrees centigrade and lighting is predominantly energy efficient. The caretaker is responsible for overseeing the school’s energy systems, reading the meters and keeping weekly records. 

Other energy saving measures include reducing the number of photocopiers to one, turning off alternate radiators in the school hall, replacing all kettles with a single water heater and installing a warm air curtain over the front door of the school. All radiators have been turned off in the school kitchen as it was greatly over-heated. 

Integrating sustainable energy into the curriculum

The school’s Eco Coordinator has produced a range of curriculum materials to be used in energy topics. Six week environmental topics take place throughout the school, some involving energy. For example all 10 and 11 year olds calculate their personal and family carbon footprint using online carbon calculators. This exercise is repeated a year later; the most significant reductions have been due to a reduction in flying. 

Each year the school holds a science fair which includes a range of energy activities and there are regular displays of pupils’ energy projects throughout the school. Occasionally pupils assist the caretaker in reading the meters and display the data on the school’s Eco Committee notice board as well as using it in curriculum activities.

Energy and cost savings

Switching from oil-fired and electric heating to biomass has reduced heating and hot water costs by an average £3,500 per annum, while electricity use has dropped by nearly 8% over two years.

Environmental benefits

The switch from oil to wood and better management of electricity use has resulted in CO2 savings of over 60 tonnes each year. In addition to reducing energy consumption the school has introduced measures to reduce water usage in the toilets and school kitchen. Waste in the school has been reduced from nine bins a week to six and there has been a reduction in the amount of paper used through sharing information electronically. Compost bins are located throughout the school for pupils to use and rainwater is collected in a water butt for use in the school garden. Pupils grow vegetables for consumption at home and fruit trees have been planted.

Hollybush collecting their Ashden Award in 2013

Community engagement

Parents are invited to participate in the sustainable energy activities at Hollybush and some are members of the school’s Eco Committee. All parents are encouraged to apply the school’s energy efficiency practices at home and parents of older pupils are invited to monitor their carbon footprint. As far as is possible the sustainable energy work at the school is carried out by local contractors. Small businesses and community groups are encouraged to visit the school to see the energy practices first hand with the biomass system a major attraction. The local authority highlights Hollybush as a centre of excellence for sustainable energy best practice.

The future

The work that Hollybush has done to change behaviour, improve energy management and monitor consumption on a regular basis can be applied to any school. Collectively such measures can readily reduce electricity consumption by 8% or more. Hollybush will sustain and further develop current energy management and environmental practices, and has three new projects that it wishes to deliver. Firstly, the school is in one of the wettest parts of the UK and so there is immense scope for a rainwater harvesting system, secondly there is a desire to install a solar PV system to provide a portion of the school’s electricity, and thirdly there is a need to replace ageing double glazed windows.