Guest post written by Education writer Gerald Haigh.

West Wycombe Combined School, a one-form entry primary school of approximately 200 children, uses Microsoft technology and up-to-date hardware to improve its ICT infrastructure, save money and reduce its carbon footprint.

If you put in more computers, then your electricity bill will go up and, inevitably, so will your carbon footprint. Isn’t that obvious?

Well, actually no. If you are replacing old equipment with new and – here’s the key point – if you make the right choices of software and hardware then both the financial and environmental costs can go down even if you substantially expand your computing infrastructure.

Right from the introduction of Windows 7, through into Windows 8, schools have reported energy savings from their new systems. In the Summer of 2013, a decision by West Wycombe Combined School to renew its IT infrastructure provided the ideal opportunity to gather supporting ‘before and after’ figures on energy use and carbon emissions.

Help the planet and save money

Alison Cobb, West Wycombe’s head, was clear from the start that energy efficiency was high on the agenda for the new installation.

‘We wanted eco-friendly machines, to minimise noise, and, of course electricity consumption,’ she says.

The school’s existing provision of 38 desktop machines was eight years old, running Windows XP. A computer suite of fifteen machines served all curriculum needs.

Over the 2013 Summer holidays, the IT provision was completely replaced by ‘Turn IT On’, specialists in IT supply and support for primary schools. www.turniton.co.uk

‘We ordered fifty computers,’ says Alison Cobb. ‘Our site isn’t physically suited to laptop trolleys so we kept the computer suite but with thirty machines instead of fifteen – one for each child. We added a new computer in each of our seven classrooms, and three in the library. The remainder are for administration and staff use. ‘

By September, IT provision was transformed – a completely new Windows 7 wireless network, with a new up to date Microsoft server, 50 computers instead of 38, including a computer suite with 30 desktops instead of 15. But would the aim of reducing energy use be achieved? And by how much?

‘Turn IT On’, always focused on value for money, were confident of the potential of their installation, and contacted Microsoft. As a result, the Microsoft UK Education and Environmental Sustainability team made careful measurements and calculations of both the previous and the new installations.

The results, make reading that’s both surprising and very encouraging for any school looking at a significant IT upgrade. Headline comparative figures show that West Wycombe’s old system cost £2,164 annually to run while the annual cost of the new system, by contrast, will be £1086. The comparative before and after figures for CO2 emissions are, respectively 12,409 and 5,747 kg.

Those figures cover the whole of the IT infrastructure, including laptops, projectors, server and routers. In each case, the new/old comparisons consistently show energy costs and emissions halved. As you’d expect, though, the biggest cost is that of the school’s network of desktop computers. Previously, under the old system, 38 desktops were costing £1598 a year to run, accounting for 9,158kg of CO2 emissions. Now, 50 desktops will cost £729 a year, with 3,996 kg of CO2. (A case study with more detail is in preparation. We’ll be giving a link when it’s available.)

Brett and Harry add pupil voice

Two of West Wycombe’s year six pupils, Brett and Harry have done their own analysis, adding detail to the conclusions by providing costs related just to the computer suite and making environmental comparisons.

‘New PCs use about half the power of our old PCs,’ they conclude, pointing out that the new suite, with 30 computers, will cost £667 a year, which is less than the £694 cost of the 15 machines in the old suite. Brett and Harry have also usefully put the CO2 emission figures in proportion with a number of examples. In one, they demonstrate, for example, that the old suite of 15 machines was responsible for one whole car’s worth of CO2, almost twice as much as their new suite of 30.

Click here to view Brett and Harry’s presentation.

How it is achieved

There are two related factors at work. One is that Windows 7 and 8 were developed with power-saving in mind – they process data more efficiently, using less electricity than any of their predecessors. They also incorporate power management features, ensuring that devices are switched off when they’re not being used. At the same time, the latest hardware is more energy-efficient than the equipment that’s being replaced. Added together, the impact on a school which, in common with all schools is both highly budget-conscious and environmentally responsible is very significant. West Wycombe’s saving of £1078 a year is a welcome teaching and learning bonus of £154 for each of its seven classes. ‘Turn IT On’ Commercial Manager Nigel Starkey says,

‘This project has clearly demonstrated how new equipment with the right level of support and training can not only raise standards of teaching and learning in a school, but also save schools significant sums of money year on year."

The impact

West Wycombe’s new system, quite apart from saving money and being eco-friendly, is having a significant effect on teaching and learning. As Alison Cobb says, a computer suite of 15 desktops, with two children working together on each can work, but there is very little leeway.

‘The suite was four years old, and there were times when some didn’t work and so there would be three on a computer. Now, teachers say it is a joy to teach with each child on their own machine. It is definitely impacting on teaching and learning.’

‘Turn IT On’ www.turniton.co.uk