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Severn Wye Energy Agency (SWEA) / New generation learns skills for life

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All schools in the UK are required to have a basic energy survey and a Display Energy Certificate, but the advice provided is often too generic to help them make energy savings.

YEP! (‘Young Energy People’) – the brainchild of Severn Wye Energy Agency – gives pupils the power and know-how to tackle the problem themselves by providing training to survey, monitor and report on their school’s energy use and carbon emissions.

Average greenhouse gas emission reductions were 32 tonnes/year CO2 per school

Average savings of £5,500/year per school on energy bills

 By March 2011, 700 pupils in Gloucestershire were directly involved in YEP!

"I’d like to make a change to the way the planet is run, with regard to CO2, water, etc. I can’t do this globally, but I can do something here in the school."

Ben Freke, Year 11 pupil, Tewkesbury School


A typical secondary school in the UK is responsible for 540 tonnes of CO2 emissions per year, equivalent to about 90 average homes. All county councils in the UK are included in the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC), and have to buy allowances for their CO2 emissions. Secondary schools account for 15 – 25% of these emissions, so represent an important opportunity to make reductions, but it has proved challenging to achieve this.

Many secondary school buildings are not very energy efficient, and even those that are may have high energy consumption because of the way they are used. The UK government has tried to encourage carbon saving by requiring all schools to have a Display Energy Certificate (DEC) which assesses energy performance and includes advice on how to improve this. However, this advice is often generic and does not provide the specific guidance that an individual school needs, so many schools do not take action…

The School Energy Management Team meets to review progress

In Gloucestershire, the Severn Wye Energy Agency (SWEA) has taken a different approach with its Young Energy People (YEP!) programme. YEP! trains secondary school pupils to carry out a detailed energy survey of their own school, present the results to the school management, engage other pupils and staff to reduce energy use through both technical and behavioural means, and monitor the progress of their school.

The organisation

SWEA is a not-for-profit company and an educational charity, established in 1999, under the direction of Catrin Maby, with the support of the European Commission SAVE programme initiative to establish local and regional energy agencies. It offers a range of services focused on energy use, climate change and education, including the development and management of projects for third parties, delivering training and advice, running educational programmes and carrying out research. Through a range of projects SWEA supports communities, businesses, schools and other public sector organisations in improving energy efficiency and raising awareness on energy use and climate change. SWEA currently employs 43 people, and has an annual income of £2m.

Students are sharing their passion and enthusiasm with like-minded students in their own school and others. They’ve also discovered that they can actually make a difference – the heads and the governors are actually listening to them.

Mark Stead, Educational Project Manager, SWEA

The programme

How does it work?

SWEA first makes an agreement with the local authority to engage a school through YEP!. It then holds an assembly at the school, so the pupils and staff can hear about the programme. A key part of the programme is to set up a School Energy Management Team (SEMT), with defined roles for its members (such as Marketing Manager and Energy Team Manager), for which YEP! provides job descriptions. Schools choose which year groups to involve in the programme, usually prioritising Year 9 to Year 11 (age 13 to 16). Students are invited to apply for the different SEMT positions by completing an application form and attending an interview. The SEMT usually includes 25 pupils at the outset. All of the team, along with a staff member, attend a training day to learn how to carry out an energy survey of the school.

The first task for the SEMT after training is to survey all the school buildings to identify areas where energy use could be reduced. The survey outline provided by YEP! includes:

  • Reviewing energy bills and comparing usage to typical and best practice.
  • Boiler rooms, including age, efficiency, heating system controls and pipe lagging.
  • Temperatures and heating controls in all classrooms and corridors.
  • Double glazing, insulation of walls and lofts, and draughtproofing.
  • Number and types of lights.
  • Number of electrical appliances, their consumption and whether they are switched off when not in use.

Based on the results of the survey, the SEMT produces a report, using a template provided by YEP!. The report includes detailed recommendations on how the school could make changes to save energy and save money. It is presented to the school’s senior management team. As a result of the report, many schools have taken action such as increasing insulation, installing thermostats and new meters, and leaving thermometers in every room to allow ongoing monitoring of temperatures.

A member of the SEMT designed a desktop for all school computers reminding pupils to switch off and save energy

Following on from the survey, the SEMT uses a template provided by YEP! to set up an ‘energy diary’, in which readings from all electricity and gas meters are logged on a monthly basis. A copy of the energy diary is sent to the School Business Manager and SWEA once a month, so they can monitor the progress of the school and the effectiveness of the programme. The SEMT also starts a campaign to encourage energy-saving behaviour change by pupils and teachers, using assemblies, posters and other strategies to make everyone aware of what they can do. In some schools, pupils from younger year groups have been recruited to carry out daily surveys of lighting, electrical appliances and heating to see how well the behaviour change work is progressing.

As SEMT members move up to higher year groups, new pupils are recruited to the team. The team may reduce in size, as only the survey stage requires a large number of members, but it an important part of the YEP! approach that the SEMT becomes a long-term feature of the school. Staff from SWEA help the SEMT throughout the school’s involvement with YEP!, including assistance with the recruitment of new members.

Bikes at Tewkesbury School

How much does it cost and how do users pay?

By March 2011, YEP! had completed three phases of work, working with up to 15 schools in each phase. Phase 1 cost about £10,000 per school, including both development of the programme and delivery, and the delivery of phases 2 and 3 cost about £6,000 per school.

In these first three phases the cost of YEP! was covered by Gloucestershire county council and EU funds from the ‘Intelligent Energy Europe’ programme, and schools did not pay. The council was able to justify its contribution because the carbon savings made will reduce its liability for CRC payments.

In the upcoming phase 4 the council is looking to split the cost with the school, in line with changes to the CRC that now allow councils to pass costs on through the central schools budget. From the experience to date, and at current energy costs, the savings in energy bills achieved by a school will cover its share of the cost in less than two years.

Dave Tyler and Ben Freke (SEMT pupil)


Environmental benefits

Phase 1 YEP! schools achieved an average 32 tonnes/year CO2 , or 12%, reduction per school in their first year, partly through changes to their buildings but also due to behaviour change of staff and pupils. Because the energy use of the school is tracked in the YEP! energy diary, progress in reducing energy consumption at the schools is closely monitored, and any anomalies can be quickly identified and investigated. In addition to the reductions in CO2 emissions at the schools, there have also been reductions due to pupils taking the energy saving message home, though these have not been quantified.

The level of detail in the school energy survey, and the professional quality of its production, means that the school retains a useful long-term resource to guide future reductions in energy use.

Social benefits

Pupils who join the SEMT learn how to undertake a professional-quality energy survey of a building, and gain additional skills that prepare them for the workplace. The process of applying to join the SEMT is very similar to applying for a job or further education, including looking at information to decide what role to apply for, filling in an application form, and having an interview. Once on the SEMT, pupils must work together to undertake agreed tasks, deliver reports and presentations, meet deadlines, and co-operate with teaching and support staff as equals, rather than as pupils. Through this they learn many skills that will be useful to them when they leave school, and also gain an insight into what it might be like to work in the field of energy efficiency.

The Head supports the sustainability drive, and I like the fact that YEP! starts with the kids. It helps us financially too. It’s also changing staff behaviour, without a doubt.

Vicky Matthews Deputy Head, Tewkesbury School

Economic and employment benefits

YEP! schools have saved an average £5,500/year per school on energy bills so far, freeing up money to be used for other purposes. During phase 1 of YEP!, some of the SEMT pupils also went on work placements in businesses where SWEA staff arranged for them to carry out an energy survey and prepare a similar report for the business to the one they produced for the school. As a result of this, the businesses have been able to make energy and cost savings through technical and behavioural changes.

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Within SWEA, the YEP! programme has provided two extra jobs, strengthening their education team and increasing their capacity to work on similar projects in future.

Potential for growth and replication

SWEA is currently working with Gloucestershire county council to roll out a fourth phase of YEP!, after which nearly all the secondary schools in the county will have worked with the programme and started making energy savings. SWEA tends not to operate outside its geographic region in the UK, but having recognised the value of the YEP! programme, they plan to roll it out across the UK with the help of partners in other regions. A conference has already been held for other county councils and potential partners to hear about the programme and sign up to run it in their area.

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