Climate change is an increasingly complex issue in modern society. To tackle this problem, European Union building energy directives and climate actions (eg 2010/31/EC(1); 2012/27/EU(2); 2018/844/EU(3)) have established the need for long-term solutions regarding resource efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reduction. However, there is still a long way to go, write Raquel de Castro Rodrigues Lima, Edelle Doherty, Dmitry Brychkov, Gary Goggins, Louise Hannon, Marcus Keane, and Eoghan Clifford.

There is no single pathway to achieving energy use reduction and associated GHG emission reductions, and each sector of society (public, private and social) must be targeted to make substantial savings.

In terms of the public sector, over 75% of Ireland’s public sector fuel consumption is attributed to heating and electricity consumption(4), therefore we must strive to save energy in our buildings, including in the workplace, public buildings and educational environments.

In the context of Ireland, Irish primary and post-primary schools account for over 7% of the overall public sector energy consumption, equating to over 688 GWh per annum at an annual cost of €41,000,000(4).

Data for 2019 indicates that overall, the public sector in Ireland has achieved 29% in energy savings since the baseline (2009 by default). However, public schools have only reached a 5% improvement since the baseline (2013 by default)(4). In this sense, further energy reductions in the educational sector are needed.

One obvious course of action would be to undertake deep retrofits, or construct new energy-efficient schools; however, this can take years to progress from planning to completion, and projects of this scale require a large budget.

As a result of these complexities, school building stock in Europe comprises of many older buildings with a higher likelihood of poor energy efficiency performance.

For example, it is estimated that 45% of the EU building stock was built before 1969, and 75% before 1990(5). On the other hand, newer buildings may also have poor energy efficiency due to increased technology, larger buildings or mechanical ventilation systems. To overcome these issues, it is necessary to look at low-cost and rapid interventions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the school sector.

ENERGE (Energising Education to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions) is a project led by NUI Galway which is aimed at tackling energy consumption in schools.

It has a budget of €4.56 million over four years and has received €2.74 million in European Regional Development Funding through InterReg North-West Europe. It comprises of partners from six European countries.

ENERGE aims to reduce energy consumption and GHG emissions in the school sector through a combination of (i) low-cost physical interventions and associated operational changes, (ii) behavioural studies and (iii) educational approaches.

ENERGE will also develop a web-based platform, which merges these three aspects, that can be implemented in other schools across Europe. The school environment is an ideal place to promote green practices, as it can influence the next generation of decision makers, resulting in energy savings not only in the schools and homes of the students, but long into the future as the students of today move into various careers and roles in the future.

ENERGE will focus on developing strategies that target the whole school ecosystem, including key stakeholders such as teachers, students and management/maintenance staff.

ENERGE has selected 13 post-primary schools across France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Northern Ireland as demonstration schools (Figure 1).

In addition, project partners include regional and local authorities (France and Ireland), SMEs (UK, Netherlands and Ireland), universities (Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, France) and an Energy Agency in Germany.

Figure 1: ENERGE demonstration schools

ENERGE uses a multidisciplinary and systemic approach combining technical, sociological, pedagogic and communications expertise in addition to low-cost technology interventions and multi-stakeholder buy-in. Each demonstration school engages in several activities as part of their role within ENERGE (Figure 2).

Figure 2: School activities within ENERGE

Results and future plans

Baseline energy consumption

Initially, site assessments were carried out at demonstration schools to analyse school buildings and the management/financial environment in a holistic manner. Figure 3 shows the main aspects considered in the site assessment of each demonstration school.

Figure 3: Main aspects considered in the site assessment of each demonstration school

The site assessments served as a baseline for monitoring progress over the course of the project. Current (pre-Covid) energy consumption was analysed at each school using existing records to baseline energy consumption (heating and electricity) with the context of useable floor area, construction type, management structure, numbers of staff and students, energy consumption patterns, etc.

For the 12 schools analysed across the six countries (the 13th school joined the project during the COVID pandemic and thus is not included), energy usage varied between 209 and 5,070 MWh/year, student numbers between 490 and 4,400, energy usage per floor area between 26 and 212 kWh/year.m2, and energy usage per student between 220 and 4,068 kWh/year.student across the demonstration schools.

It is apparent that there is a wide variety in energy consumption across the schools. Some factors that influenced this include the presence of varying levels of sports facilities, workshops, the type of school and the level of technology employed by the school. Other factors, such as local climate, are being investigated further.

Qualitative and quantitative data gathering

Indoor climate sensors and electrical energy meters have been installed at selected locations in demonstration schools to monitor progress over the project. The data from these sensors will be used to supplement student educational materials, student comfort questionnaires, and feed into the ENERGE web-based platform.

In parallel, the analysis of behaviours and practices that lead to or prevent energy efficiency is important. In the context of ENERGE, this analysis includes the identification and understanding of drivers and barriers of behaviour.

For example, some behavioural change models and theories stipulate that behaviour is driven by individuals’ attitudes but clearly behaviours are also affected by organisational and institutional factors, such as cost, policy, regulation etc(6,7,8,9), along with material elements such as the type of building and heating system. Therefore, targeting a change in individual behaviour may have a limited impact on energy consumption (for example heating in winter may be centrally controlled).

Qualitative measurements of personal comfort within the schools will be analysed in conjunction with physical measurements of environmental conditions (Figure 4).

In many cases, the project will engage students in both carrying out measurements and surveys, and also in helping to analyse the resulting data. Thus, ENERGE is applying a mixed methods approach based on observations, focus groups, surveys and other research methods(10,11,12). The methodology developed for the project covers a range of themes to address key attributes of the energy use system at various stakeholder categorisation levels.

Figure 4: Conceptual framework of student's sociological assessment

Collected data will be merged onto a platform (Figure 5) which will provide several key outputs including (i) visualisations of energy consumption suitable for high level reporting but also mode detailed analysis (ii) indoor climate measurements (iii) data relating to thermal and environmental comfort and (iv) opportunities for schools to develop student projects, based on data, that can devise recommendations to reduce energy consumption in the school.

Figure 5: The ENERGE platform under development will merge a broader range of data to provide a holistic view on school energy consumption, indoor climate, and perceptions as to thermal and environmental comfort. The platform is being developed by TU Delft within the ENERGE project

Covid challenges

The closure of schools in all countries due to COVID has delayed the implementation of some aspects of the project. School closures and changes in operational patterns have affected baselining activities, and prevented the project team from visiting the demonstration schools as much as was originally intended.

Certain activities have moved online, but engagement with students and schools has been more limited due to the pressures which they are under to complete the normal curriculum.

Furthermore, the reopening of schools has come with recommendations that might temporarily change expected energy consumption patterns (eg, increased mechanical ventilation requirements in summer and/or increased heating requirements due to open windows for natural ventilation in winter and spring).

Thus, to date the project has focused on other aspects of the project such as attitude and behavioural surveys and the development of short educational modules in energy for schools.

Conclusions and next steps

Project activities performed to date highlight the heterogeneity and complexity of school environments across the NWE region. They also provide valuable insights on how to engage the whole school community and key stakeholders to reduce energy consumption and as a result, carbon emissions.

The next steps of the ENERGE project include the following activities:

  • Data gathering from indoor climate sensors and energy meters in the demonstration schools;
  • Additional sociological assessments (such as comfort and attitude/behaviour questionnaire);
  • Development of the ENERGE Platform based on feedback from focus group sessions;
  • Further development of educational material on energy literacy to supplement existing school curricula;
  • Assessment of the effects of project initiatives beyond the school environment, ie, into the home environment;
  • Assessment of the project’s potential long-term impacts and applicability to other schools in the NWE region.

The authors of this article intend to provide further insight into the ENERGE project in a subsequent article in the next issue. We will discuss how the project engages with the school population, and provide an insight into plans, which are currently being developed, to roll out ENERGE to the wider school community.

Project description

ENERGE is a multinational project funded by the Interreg North-West Europe Programme and comprises partners from six EU countries. These partners (Figure 6) represent academia (Centre for the Advancement of STEM Teaching and Learning of Dublin City University, Delft University of Technology, ECE Paris Graduate School of Engineering, National University of Ireland Galway, Le Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, National School of Architecture Paris-Val de Seine and University of Luxembourg), business entities (Office Vitae, Powerpoint and R2M Solution), non-profit organizations (Energy Agency Region of Trier), as well as local and regional governmental authorities (Regional Council of Centre-Val de Loire and Galway City Council).

If you are interested in finding out more on the ENERGE project, please visit, follow us on Twitter ( or LinkedIn ( 

Authors: Raquel de Castro Rodrigues Lima1,2,3, Edelle Doherty1,2, Dmitry Brychkov1, Gary Goggins1, Louise Hannon1,2,3, Marcus M. Keane1,2,3, Eoghan Clifford1,2,3 (1School of Engineering, National University of Ireland Galway. 2 Ryan Institute, National University of Ireland Galway. 3 Informatics Research Unit for Sustainable Engineering, National University of Ireland Galway.)


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