School Power!March 2014
Education Review finds out how a new AoG contract could help lower schools’ energy bills.
Energy costs can account for a large chunk of a school’s expenditure. However, the Government is hoping its new Gas for Schools initiative will help keep energy bills in check.
The initiative comes under the umbrella of the All of Government (AoG) Reticulated Gas procurement project, that in turn falls under the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s (MBIE’s) utilities programme; this programme includes three AoG contracts: AoG Energy Management Services, AoG Electricity, and more recently, AoG Gas.
Following an open and competitive tender process, Genesis Energy became the sole provider under the gas contract. The Gas for Schools initiative consequently became a combined exercise between the MBIE, the Ministry of Education and Genesis Energy, focused on making the AoG Reticulated Gas procurement project accessible to schools.
The idea is that by harnessing its collective buying power, the Government has been able to negotiate substantial cost savings that can be passed on to schools, allowing them to focus more on their teaching and less on the burdens associated with property management.
But will schools go for it?
It is still early days for the Gas for Schools project, with schools just now receiving information and sign-up packages, but the MBIE is anticipating a good take-up.
“Signing up is at the individual school’s discretion, but with average savings of 21 per cent for schools, as well as other benefits such as budgeting and reporting advice, fair and transparent terms, and price certainty over the term, we are hopeful that the value proposition is compelling for schools,” says Grant Lyons, collaborative procurement manager within the Government Procurement Branch at the MBIE.
Momentum building for AoG contracts in schools
All of Government contracts are part of a public sector-wide Government Procurement Reform Programme aimed at making government buying as efficient as possible and reducing costs. The programme includes all public sector agencies, councils and up to 2500 schools.
It would seem schools are becoming increasingly receptive to the idea of AoG contracts.
At first, many schools appeared to approach the contracts with caution.
However, buy-in from schools appears to be increasing, as evidenced by the AoG contracts established to help schools achieve savings when purchasing computers, tablets and other technological equipment.
There are now 242 schools participating with a total of 338 contracts that have been signed, across a total of 2452 eligible schools, participating in one or more AoG contract. According to Lyons, these schools are on track to save a consolidated average of 16 per cent across all AoG categories for the current financial year.
At the beginning of 2013, the Desktop and Laptop Computers (DTLT) contract had 70 schools participating. One year later, there are now 135 schools achieving an average saving of 13 per cent. The Office Consumables contract has also seen an increase in participation now with 116 schools participating in the contract, up from 82 at the start of last year, achieving an average saving of 23 per cent.
The boost in acceptance is in part due to the MBIE’s own efforts in raising awareness of the contracts and associated benefits for schools. A new role was established to help promote the contracts, a greater web presence was formed, and a more user-friendly online sign-up process was introduced.
“We are also gaining a greater understanding of schools’ specific requirements,” says Lyons, “and as a result ... we have been able to tailor some of the AoG contracts to better suit the schools community such as the Desktop and Laptop Computers, Office Consumables, and Mobile Voice and Data contracts.”
However, given the large number of schools yet to opt in to AoG contracts, there are still many opportunities.
The MBIE is conscious that information surrounding the contracts needs to be conveyed clearly to schools.
“One challenge will be ensuring that the interactions with schools occur in a language that they can understand,” says Lyons.
“Procurement and gas are technical areas and it is vital that MBIE gears its communications to ensure schools can process information and make informed decisions.”
When it comes to user friendliness, Genesis Energy appears to be a worthy suitor for the Government’s Gas for Schools initiative. Genesis’ energy efficiency education programme, Schoolgen, is already well-established in New Zealand schools.
Since the Schoolgen programme began in 2006, 50 schools have already received a two kilowatt array of free photovoltaic solar panels, which generate electricity for the school every minute there is sunlight every day of the year.
“If the school wants to expand the solar array, the Schoolgen team works with each school to make this happen,” says Maggie Twaddle, Schoolgen leader.
“The solar data and the school’s electricity use is graphed and put up on their special page on the Schoolgen website.”
Schools also receive a number of free educational resources and the support of environmental educators.
Twaddle gives many examples of how the programme is working with schools in different ways.
Lake Tekapo School, for instance, now has a high capacity battery bank in addition to its solar panels, enabling the school to run off solar power every day from 11am to 3pm and be the independently-powered emergency centre for Lake Tekapo.
May Road School is another success story.
“They were lucky enough to be given all the resources, and with the support of the Schoolgen educator and Tirimoana School, they integrated the Schoolgen programme into their school. With an outstanding effort by both the staff and students they earned the school a 2kW array of PV panels, which will be installed early in 2014.”
Twaddle is enthusiastic about what Schoolgen is achieving. As part of a special partnership between Wellington City Council and Genesis Energy, 16 Wellington primary and intermediate schools will become Schoolgen schools in a joint venture with the council over the next two to three years.
In addition to the growing number of Schoolgen schools, Twaddle says there are a number of unique projects underway: the return of the Mean Green House Design Competition this year; the energy cluster days to enable students and teachers in different regions to come together to learn about solar power and energy efficiency.
The growing success of programmes like Schoolgen is certainly indication that Kiwi schools are interested in becoming more energy efficient and making savings in this area. With earlier AoG contracts starting to gain traction within schools, it would appear that timing could be right to introduce the Government’s Gas for Schools initiative.
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