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Outlook 2010: Energy conservation can help schools save sparse funds

A key aspect of sustainability is using energy efficiently. Schools and universities have plenty of opportunities to upgrades facilities and equipment to conserve energy and save money. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency points out that energy costs are second only to personnel costs for school district budgets, totaling approximately $8 billion annually nationwide. Improving energy efficiency can save about $2 billion of that total.

Among the strategies: lighting retrofits that use more efficient bulbs and fixtures, as well as timers and motion sensors that turn off lights when not needed; daylighting strategies that enable building interiors to be illuminated with natural light; window upgrades that are better able to prevent unwanted heat and light from entering a space; and installation of more efficient heating and cooling systems that require less energy to operate.

More education institutions also are turning to energy sources that do not rely on fossil fuels, which contribute to an institution's carbon footprint. Photovoltaic cells that collect solar energy have been installed on the rooftops of numerous schools and universities throughout the nation. Other campuses receive energy from wind turbines.

School facilities, because they are expected to last 50 years or longer, are good candidates for geothermal heating and cooling systems, which are expensive to install but generate significant energy savings over the life of a building. Geothermal systems capture heat from beneath the Earth's surface and can use 25 to 50 percent less energy than traditional heating and cooling systems, the EPA says.

Many education institutions that could not afford the upfront cost of energy upgrades or retrofits have used performance contracts to achieve the desired improvements. Companies pay the initial costs of making the energy improvements to a school facility, and the schools use the money saved through the more efficient operation to reimburse the companies for the improvements.

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

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