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Rebuilding RAAC schools with energy efficiency in mind

With most school buildings having a typical lifespan of about 80 years, opportunities to build schools with a responsible design from the outset – rather than retrofitting – are few and far between.

The Government’s recent announcement that 119 schools in England need to be rebuilt due to the reinforced autoclave aerated concrete (RAAC) crisis presents us with one of these rare opportunities. 

While retrofitting is a brilliant solution for the vast majority of schools, there’s no substitute for buildings that have been designed with energy efficiency firmly in mind. 

It’s no secret that schools across the country are facing rocketing energy bills. Figures from the Department for Education show that, in England, local authority-maintained schools spent 61% more on energy in the year 2022-23 than the previous year. 

And the quality of school building stock is also poor when it comes to energy performance, with one fifth of all school buildings in England possessing an Energy Performance Certificate of E, F or G – the lowest ratings it’s possible to achieve.

Little wonder, then, that net-zero consultancy The Carbon Trust has estimated that UK schools could reduce their energy costs by around £44m each year.

While there’s a whole host of interior upgrades that can be made, from installing more efficient LED lighting and heating and ventilation systems, the shell of school buildings themselves should be made to work as hard as possible. 


At Project Solar, we believe it would be a glaring oversight, for example, if renewable energy sources were not an integral part of all 119 school rebuilds. Solar panels are such an obvious and logical place to start when it comes to reducing dependence on grid electricity. Research from property consultancy Barker suggests that schools can generate approximately 25% of their electricity from on-site solar PV systemsalone. 

Evidence shows that where schools have already installed solar panels, they’re quickly reaping the benefits, both financially and environmentally. Hammersmith Academy in Shepherds Bush, for example, installed over 400 solar panels last summer and is on track to cut its electricity bills by 20% in the first year post-installation. At the same time, the Academy is saving 32 tonnes of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere, which is the equivalent to approximately 1,500 trees being planted. 

And solar panels are not just a money-saving measure for schools, but potentially a money-making one too. Exporting renewable energy that they haven’t used back to the grid could generate a steady income stream for schools. 

So, I would urge us not to be short-sighted when rebuilding our schools, and to recognise the long-term benefits that renewables adoption can bring. The recent announcement of new funding pots could help those 119 RAAC schools to finance that, as well as opening up retrofitting opportunities for existing school buildings. 

Last week the Government announced £530 million of funding for low carbon heating and energy savings for schools, hospital and other public buildings. Tapping into funding via the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme should be high on the priority list for all schools. 

Simon Peat

By getting it right with these 119 RAAC rebuilds, we can have 119 examples of best practise when it comes to energy efficiency that future school rebuilds can be modelled on. Ultimately the transition to net-zero will require the entire school real estate portfolio in the UK to upgrade, but the RAAC rebuilds are a great place to really build momentum on the isolated pockets of schools dotted around the country that already have solar panels.   

By Simon Peat – CEO of Project Solar, the UK’s largest solar panel installer

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