Report: Energy efficiency remains a priority for educational institutions

Energy efficiency continues to grow across the nation as more schools invest in renewable energy to power their facilities and educate students at the same time.

Energy efficiency continues to grow across the nation as more schools invest in renewable energy to power their facilities and educate students. Being energy conscious is one of the highest concerns for schools as a new study conducted by the Alliance to Save Energy and Schneider Electric shows higher education institutions' main priority is fulfilling energy investments.

The study shows that roughly 88 percent of respondents said energy efficiency is the best possible way to address energy consumption costs while reducing greenhouse gases at the same time at the schools' facilities. Energy conscious efforts are not only educational to the students around these renewable systems, it helps schools save drastically on energy costs.

Educational institutes demand energy efficiency 
Tara Canfield, segment director for the education and commercial office buildings at Schneider Electric, said the majority of educational buildings plan to exist throughout and past the next couple of decades, the release stated. This means schools want to look for a long-term solution to their energy costs as more options are available in the solar energy industry. More affordable photovoltaic panels have made solar one of the fastest growing renewable energy sources in the nation.

"Tremendous opportunities exist to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste in these existing buildings," Canfield stated. "In particular, by integrating building systems, facility managers can view energy use from a single interface, identify long-term opportunities for savings and continuously optimize their facility to yield the highest levels of efficiency over time. This integration also enables organizations to better use data from the Internet of Things, turning building insights into meaningful action that will improve operations."

Saving on energy costs in older buildings
This is critical as many educational facilities have aging infrastructures. In fact, the Alliance to Save Energy and Schneider Electric study found 59 percent of respondents said their educational building is at least 15 years or older. Additionally, only 20 percent of respondents said their building is younger than 10 years old.

With the fact that 90 percent of respondents said they want to increase or maintain their energy efficiency investments in 2015, this shows a great opportunity to combine new technology with educational facilities. Canfield added that energy efficiency cannot be a short-term solution and building owners need to consider long-term solutions to drive down energy costs.

Solar market booming
According to an earlier Solar Energy Industries Association and GTM Research report, solar grew by 30 percent in 2014, compared to the groundbreaking year for the industry in 2013. The U.S. added 6.2 gigawatts and a lot of that is directly coming from schools.

The U.S. PV market has skyrocketed in the last five years because of more adoptions and affordable options. The report said the U.S. PV industry increased from $3 billion in 2009 to $13.4 billion in 2014. Even newcomer states such as Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Louisiana are growing significantly in the solar industry, while areas like California, New Mexico and Arizona still reign supreme.

Streamlining solar projects
Schools have to be able to streamline energy projects to see savings right away. Scott Thach, vice president of education for the Alliance to Save Energy group, said with school budgets getting harder to manage, cost-savings strategies have to take priority for long-term success.

"It's the last low-hanging fruit in the efficiency space - in addition to creating the next generation of smart energy consumers, professionals and leaders," Thach said. "Combining efficiency with education is the shortest path to savings, and smartest strategy for making long-term sustainability truly sustainable."

More information on U.S. solar energy can be found on PennEnergy's research area.

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