Energy efficiency is recognized among U.S. higher education institutions as key to fulfilling their schools’ core mission, with almost 9 out of 10 respondents expecting to increase or maintain energy efficiency investments next year, according to a new study commissioned by Schneider Electric and the Alliance to Save Energy. Eighty-eight percent of respondents also agree that energy efficiency is the most cost effective way to meet their energy needs while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting costs.
The biggest factor driving schools’ energy efficiency efforts is cost savings, according to the survey conducted with higher education facility leaders, with environmental benefits and industry standards rounding out the top three reasons for becoming more energy efficient. However, obstacles exist to achieving these objectives. While 92 percent of respondents stated that their school had a culture that encourages energy efficiency practices, organizational barriers are challenging their ability to achieve efficiency goals. Fifty-nine percent view this as the biggest obstacle, with insufficient funding and lack of a clear definition of success also ranking highly.
Another factor impacting institutions is aging infrastructure, with 59 percent indicating that the average age of their buildings exceeds 15 years, and only one in five reporting that the average age of their building is below 10 years. As facility leaders look to upgrade existing buildings, compatibility with new technology ranks as most important when considering making an investment. Compatibility with legacy systems outranked quality of the product and technology advancements of the solution.
“A majority of the higher education buildings that stand today are expected to be in operation for the next few decades,” said Tara Canfield, Segment Director, Education and Commercial Office Buildings at Schneider Electric. “Tremendous opportunities exist to improve energy efficiency and reduce waste in these existing buildings. 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.”
Canfield added, “While we’re pleased to see energy efficiency ranking highly among facility leaders as an area of importance and continued investment, the findings also show that steps need to be taken to streamline organizational processes and establish a clear definition of success among stakeholders to achieve each school’s energy efficiency goals. Having the right strategy and measurement approach in place is critical to the success of any energy and sustainability program.”
“In today’s budget climate, energy efficiency is a critical tool for higher education institutions in their efforts to cut costs and prepare strategically for long term success,” said Scott Thach, Vice President of Education for the Alliance to Save Energy. “And leveraging capital investments with energy education ensures that those efficiency upgrades maintain performance and optimize savings. 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. Combining efficiency with education is the shortest path to savings, and smartest strategy for making long-term sustainability truly sustainable.”
The survey was conducted by Redshift Research in June 2015 among 150 U.S. facilities leaders in higher educational establishments. Respondents have responsibility related to purchasing energy solutions, and their biggest responsibilities included facility management and operations management.