Ashden Winners

Okehampton College / Living and learning sustainable energy

Area of work:

Play Video

A sustainable future depends on future generations. Okehampton College is setting an example. Their aim is carbon neutrality.

Energy-saving behaviour via replacing lights and using solar energy, is encouraged, while staff and governors are also working towards harnessing wind, hydro and biomass. The College has cut its own electricity bills by 50%, saving £20,000 a year, while also engaging 11 feeder primary schools and the local community in energy projects.

30kWp of solar PV installed

Two 11 kW wind turbines installed

 Electricity consumption fallen by over 50%, saving £20,000 per year

"After we got new insulation at school, we got our home checked and it had no insulation! We’ve got some now, and it has cut our heating bills."

Member of the STEM club, Okehampton College


Okehampton College is situated in the centre of Okehampton, in the northwest corner of Dartmoor National Park. It is the only secondary school in the area and provides education for 1,400 pupils aged 11-19. The college has specialist status for technology and applied learning, a specialism which has driven its commitment to energy efficiency and micro generation.

The college comprises a number of separate teaching blocks, some dating back to the early 20th century, some recently built and a new Skills Centre due to open in 2010. The range of buildings provides many energy challenges, but the college is committed to energy self sufficiency and carbon neutrality.

The carbon reduction activities are led by a team of senior managers and governors, supported by pupils from the college’s STEM Club (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) who are actively engaged in monitoring energy usage in the college.

Integrating sustainable energy in schools

The sustainable energy activities are led by a team of four people – the Principal, the School Business Manager, the Chair of Governors and Keith Webber, the Community Technology Coordinator. Keith is responsible for linking the activities with the school curriculum, engaging pupils in the energy programmes, supporting the eleven feeder primaries with their own energy activities and providing links with the wider community. The management and monitoring of energy is carried out by the School Business Manager, who negotiates supply and maintenance contracts, keeps records of meter readings and administers the finances.

Installing sustainable energy technology

An energy dashboard (provided by Natural Watt, the PV installer) and weather station on the college’s website provides data on electricity generated by the PV panels, as well as electricity consumption. An automated meter reading has recently been installed to monitor gas use, and another will be installed soon to monitor water use as well.

Since 2006 the college has invested in a number of measures to reduce energy consumption. Following a Carbon Trust survey, unnecessary lights and radiators have been removed and an upgrade of the roof and cavity wall insulation has been commissioned, with 1,000 m2 of cavity wall insulation already completed. 30kWp of solar PV has also been installed. A local lighting company has provided 3,000 low energy fluorescent tubes to the college as a promotional exercise, replacing T8 and T12 lights with more efficient T5 ones. This conversion has reduced the estimated lighting load from 130 kW to 65 kW. Motion sensors are also being trialled in some of the corridors. A Big Hanna Composter has been installed to deal with bio degradable waste from the college kitchen, as a trial by the local authority. Food waste is mixed with small wood chips and converted into compost for use on the college garden. The process uses mechanical agitation and ventilation, and takes up to six weeks.

All these energy efficiency and renewable energy measures have been funded from a range of grants together with contributions from the local authority, including Devon Council’s Green Challenge Fund for Schools and Colleges. £95,000 in grants helped fund the 30 kWp solar PV and accompanying website dashboard. Eventually, the college intends to invest around £75,000 of its own money out of the total budget of £304,000.

All staff and pupils are involved in promoting sustainable energy behaviour.

Behaviour change

All staff and pupils are involved in promoting sustainable energy behaviour. Senior staff deal with the technical and financial aspects of the sustainable energy work, whilst pupils from the college’s STEM Club monitor energy use in the college buildings. They have designed a ‘traffic light’ system for identifying good and bad behaviour. Classrooms are checked to see if lights and equipment have been left on. If everything has been turned off a green face is left on the teacher’s desk. If something is left switched on a red face is left. After a series of green faces a smiling yellow face is provided. For consistently poor behaviour red warning triangles are placed on classroom doors.

Since the system was introduced pupils have noticed a definite change in behaviour, with an increase in the number of green faces awarded. Some teachers display their awards and now there is staff competition for the most green and yellow faces. The pupils have also designed and placed ‘switch off’ notices next to light switches in corridors around the college. The school has energy efficiency notice boards to keep staff and fellow pupils informed of the college’s energy activities and achievements.

People do turn off the lights, because they’ve seen that it can make a difference to our energy use.

In addition to energy activities, the college has reduced its water use and recycles paper and other materials. The STEM Club pupils have produced notebooks from scrap paper which they sell for 25p each and have made paper ‘logs’ for use in wood burners. The college is developing a gardening project – ‘Growing our Futures’ – which focuses on the issues of peak oil, climate change and food security. Pupils grow and harvest fruit and vegetables to be used in the school kitchen. Pupils from Year 7 work on the garden with Year 6 pupils from the feeder primary schools. This helps the transition from primary to secondary school as the younger pupils are already familiar with the college and some its pupils before they transfer.

The college has also distributed 6,000 low energy light bulbs to local householders.

Sustainable energy activities stretch well beyond the college gates: the college supports eleven feeder primary schools with their own energy programmes. Together with DARE (Devon Association For Renewable Energy) and the Oxenham Building Consultancy, all schools have had an energy survey and ten of them have planning permission for solar PV, with installation completed at four. The college has also distributed 6,000 low energy light bulbs to local householders, and members of the STEM Club have given energy saving presentations to community groups.

Integrating sustainable energy into the curriculum

As in all secondary schools, the curriculum is determined by national requirements for GCSE and A Level qualifications. Energy is taught mainly in science, technology, geography and maths. The college’s specialist status for technology, together with the sustainable energy technology it has installed, provides pupils with excellent opportunities for learning. The college has held themed curriculum days where the timetable has been shelved, allowing pupils to attend workshops on renewable energy.

The energy dashboard on the school’s website provides very useful information for use in science and maths lessons. In geography, the pupils held a mock summit in the run-up to Copenhagen in 2009. Citizenship lessons have included an exercise on writing letters for and against the wind turbines planned for the college.


Environmental benefits

The solar PV and lighting conversions are saving around 70 tonnes of CO2 per year. Lighting conversions coupled with better energy awareness and energy management have helped the college to achieve a Display Energy Certificate ‘C’ rating across its buildings. The college’s energy work has had a direct benefit for sustainable energy in its eleven feeder primary schools. The energy surveys organised by the college and carried out in these schools were given to the local council to help them plan upgrades, improve energy performance and reduce emissions.

The Big Hanna Composter reduces the volume of kitchen waste that has to be removed from the premises, as well as providing a valuable source of compost for the college’s fruit and vegetable garden. Produce from the garden is grown organically and is used in the college kitchen, reducing food costs and food miles.

Social benefits

As well as supporting its feeder primary schools the college has been able to showcase its sustainable energy activities to the local community. Pupils have taken the energy saving message home and have reported changes in energy use amongst family members. The college keeps the community regularly informed of its energy activities and consults widely when planning for renewable energy installations. Local citizens are encouraged to participate in energy events and the college invites them to environmental films and quizzes.

In 2009 the college received the Chairman’s Award from the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust for its contribution to sustainable education.

Economic benefits

Although the sustainable energy measures installed have generated only a small drop in gas consumption, electricity consumption has fallen by over 50%. By entering into its own contract for energy supply rather than buying energy through the local authority, the college has reduced its unit price for electricity by 4p per kWh. The energy efficiency measures and solar PV, combined with the reduced contract price, have resulted in cost savings of £20,000 per year. Water saving measures have reduced water costs by £19,000 per year.

The recent introduction of automated meter reading (AMR) for the gas supply has immediately highlighted some simple measures that will reduce gas consumption, for example ensuring heating is only on when and where it is needed. Unnecessary and unexpected surges are readily identified in the daily graphs the AMR produces.

Potential for growth and replication

The college’s current and future plans (see ‘Future plans’ box) are ambitious, but its ultimate aim is to become a centre of excellence for renewable energy and to move towards energy self-sufficiency. It even hopes to export surplus power to local businesses.

The most replicable aspect of the activities at Okehampton College is the school’s support for its feeder primary schools. In general, secondary schools have the expertise and are able to allocate more staff time to develop sustainable energy activities than is possible in most primary schools. The college receives extra funding for its technology specialism and is expected to use some of the money to establish links with local primary schools. Over 3,000 schools and colleges in England have a specialist status and schools with specialism in science, technology or engineering are ideally placed to support primary schools with energy activities.

Read More / Related posts

This site uses cookies to provide you with the best user experience. By using the Ashden website, you accept our use of cookies.

Stay up to date

Be the first to know about our latest projects and news