Energy Matters

As the holiday season enters its final stretch, school and university administrators are faced with a difficult decision — and it's not just what last-minute gift to buy that special someone in their lives.

With winter expected to be colder than normal in some parts of the country, education institutions are grappling with how to handle huge spikes in energy costs that are affecting everything from heating buildings to using lighting and equipment to transporting children.

Energy expenditures are wreaking havoc on many school and university budgets. According to recent data, education institutions spent $13.8 billion on energy in the 2004-05 academic year — an almost 20 percent increase from what was spent just two years ago. School districts spent $9.9 billion, and higher-education institutions reported $3.9 billion in energy expenditures.

The increase in costs comes with little or no increase in budgets, forcing administrators to reevaluate their energy usage, as well as factors that contribute to energy waste. Some of the strategies many are adopting have minimal or no cost — turning down thermostats, installing energy-efficient lighting, eliminating unnecessary appliances, and turning off lights and equipment when no longer in use.

Other schools and universities are taking an even more proactive approach, investing money now to save much more later. Examples include upgrading to more efficient heating and window systems, installing computerized energy-management systems, adding lighting sensors, and creating consortiums to purchase energy at cheaper bulk rates. Some are investigating the use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.

High energy costs likely are here to stay, so there is no time like the present to rein in runaway energy expenditures. Whatever your strategy, it's vital that your institution's energy usage and costs be inventoried to uncover any potential waste, as well as where improvements can be made to achieve more efficient energy management and long-term savings.

SCORECARD

$13.8 billion

Total amount spent on energy by the nation's education institutions (schools and colleges) in the 2004-05 school year.

$9.9 billion

Amount spent on energy by the nation's elementary and secondary schools in the 2004-05 school year.

$181.53

Median amount spent per student (K-12) on energy in the 2004-05 school year.

$237.72

Median amount spent per full-time college student on energy in the 2004-05 school year.

Source: American School & University's 34th Annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study for School Districts and American School & University's 11th Annual Maintenance and Operations Cost Study for Colleges, April 2005.

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