The City of Philadelphia School System’s Save Energy Campaign is one of the most remarkable success stories of its kind. Begun in 1983-1984 with no money at all, the campaign has become a leading revolving fund and has saved over $77 million in the past 11 years. By figuring out a unique and highly effective means to motivate key players in the schools themselves, the program has not only provided dramatic dollar savings, but has allowed the school system to do its number one job better, namely teaching students. In fact, through the dollar savings the program has provided the funds to purchase a large number of the personal computers in the entire district.
The School District of Philadelphia is the fifth largest school district in the country, with 258 schools, 282 buildings, and an annual enrollment of over a fifth of a million students. On top of these numbers, the School District’s student population has grown by nearly 3% in the past decade, further stressing its facilities and its operating budget. Each year the School District consumes an enormous amount of energy in the forms of electricity, gas, oil, steam, and even coal, which combined account to nearly $32 million annually, taxing the School District and limiting the amount of money that can be better applied to education. These factors created the impetus for the Save Energy Campaign, one of the most exciting and successful revolving funds in the United States.
Perhaps the key lesson learned in Philadelphia is that energy can be saved in facilities when the proper incentives are put in place. While the School District has nearly 500 electric meters and over 200 gas meters, individual schools were never cognizant of their shares of energy use. In fact, a single electrical bill is sent to the School District by PECO Energy each month! What Jack Myers and others at the School District figured out was a clever way of providing an incentive for each school to save energy. By sharing the resulting energy savings between the School District overall and the individual schools that generated the savings, tremendous savings have accrued, and money has been redirected from wasted lighting and heat, to books, teachers, computers, and the like.
Remarkably, the Save Energy Campaign began with no money at all. Now after eleven years, the program has saved nearly a terawatt-hour of electricity, nearly ten billion cubic feet of natural gas, over 50 million gallons of oil, two billion pounds of steam, and over 100,000 tons of coal! These energy savings, in turn, have resulted in dollar savings that exceed $77 million, an inspiring achievement and a tribute to clever program design and the diligent efforts of the School District of Philadelphia’s administration and each of the schools involved, including their principals, staff, and students. Together these players are to be commended as they have proven that saving energy is possible without capital, without utility sponsored programs, and in dire conditions for the benefit of all.
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