Two-thirds of school districts responding to a new "School Energy and Environment Survey" from Honeywell and Education Week Research have made spending cuts or modifications as a direct result of rising energy bills. Seventy-four percent of respondents also said their districts don't have the money to pursue energy retrofit or renewable energy projects. These budgetary constraints and cutbacks, primarily in building maintenance and capital investment, are hurting efforts to boost efficiency and resolve schools' long-term energy and financial concerns.
The online survey gathered input from more than 250 district administrators nationwide regarding energy management and environmental sustainability practices. More than half of respondents have scaled back, delayed or eliminated the possibility of energy efficiency and renewable energy projects due to the economic downturn. In addition, while 96 percent of survey respondents view energy management as important to their district's long-term success, one-third reported that they do not have a strategic plan for managing energy consumption and costs.
Although school districts consider renewable energy sources as a potential solution, many do not have the internal resources or expertise to determine the most suitable investments for their buildings. According to the survey, 61 percent of school districts have evaluated or implemented renewable energy sources, with solar photovoltaic, wind and geothermal the most popular choices. Yet, 40 percent of these respondents said they don't have a clear understanding of the variables that impact the economic viability of renewable technology.
"The renewable energy options that seem to be top of mind are telling," said Jeremy Eaton, vice president of energy solutions for Honeywell Building Solutions. "Solar, wind and geothermal are the most visible, well-known technologies. However, when we analyze energy prices, resource availability, financial incentives and other factors, we see biomass thermal as having the greatest financial drivers for the education industry as a whole. And that technology is barely on people's radar, according to the survey."
In addition, while there is growing interest for schools to incorporate sustainability practices into their building operations and curriculum, there is a clear gap between commitment and activity. While 26 percent of districts have set goals to reduce their carbon footprints, only 7 percent have completed a greenhouse gas inventory - a necessary step in cataloging emissions and setting a baseline to gauge the impact of environmental initiatives.
In July 2009, Honeywell Building Solutions and Education Week Research conducted an online survey of Education Week Web subscribers identified as school district administrators or school board members. The survey consisted of 253 respondents from across the United States.