Managing Energy Costs in K-12 Schools

Schools

Kindergarten through high school (K–12) buildings in the US use an average of of 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 50 cubic feet of natural gas per square foot (ft2) annually. In a typical school building, space heating, cooling, and lighting together account for nearly 70 percent of school energy use (Figure 1). Plug loads—such as computers and copiers—constitute one of the top three electricity end uses, after lighting and cooling.

Average energy use data

Figure 1: Energy consumption by end use
In K–12 school buildings, lighting, cooling, and computers are the major electricity consumers; space heating is the largest end use of natural gas, with water heating a distant second.
Pie chart showing electricity end uses: Cooling 35%; Miscellaneous, 18%; Lighting, 14%; Computer, 14%; Ventilation, 11%, and Refrigeration, 8%.
Pie chart showing natural gas end uses: Heating, 73%; Water heating, 19%; and Miscellaneous, 8%.
Top technology uses

K–12 school districts in the US spend about $8 billion on energy each year. Although energy costs account for only 2 to 4 percent of school district expenditures, it is one of the few expenses that can be decreased without negatively affecting classroom instruction. By implementing energy-efficient measures, along with operations and maintenance strategies, school districts can generate substantial energy cost savings while improving the physical environment of school facilities.

To better manage a building’s energy costs, it helps to understand how you are charged for those costs. Most utilities charge commercial buildings for their natural gas based on the amount of energy delivered. Electricity, on the other hand, can be charged based on two measures: demand and consumption (Figure 2). The consumption component of the bill is based on the amount of electricity in kilowatt-hours that the building consumes each month. The demand component is the peak demand in kilowatts occurring within the month or, for some utilities, during the previous 12 months. Demand charges can range from a few dollars to upwards of $20 per kilowatt-month. If the electric bill for your school includes demand charges, you should reduce demand whenever possible.

Figure 2: Diagram of a hypothetical daily load shape
Your utility may be including demand charges—higher rates for electricity consumed during peak hours—on your monthly bill. If the electric bill for your school includes demand charges, you should consider implementing strategies that reduce energy consumption during peak hours, such as thermal storage.

Understanding your school’s energy consumption in a given month can also help in the effort to control costs. Utilities can provide monthly data for a school district’s use and analysis—and some utilities will also assist with the analysis.

All of the conservation measures discussed here will save money and enhance both the aesthetics and the learning environment of your school. Resources are available that can assist you in creating optimal facility conditions, including Energy Star’s resources for K–12 schools, which provides case studies, technical guidelines, and energy benchmarking.

Quick Fixes
Longer-Term Solutions
Content last reviewed: 
04/18/2017