Schools chipping away at sustainability goals

Issue: Volume 101, Number 9

Posted: 21 July 2022
Reference #: 1HAV68

The School Coal Boiler Replacement Programme is supporting schools to reduce their emissions by providing more environmentally friendly and cost-effective replacements.

Fiordland College caretaker Steve Davison is happy with the new high-tech woodchip boiler.

Fiordland College caretaker Steve Davison is happy with the new high-tech woodchip boiler.

The best thing since sliced cheese – that’s how Steve Davison, caretaker at Fiordland College, describes the school’s new boiler.

The school got their old coal boiler replaced with a state-of-the-art woodchip boiler, under the School Coal Boiler Replacement Programme. It’s part of a government funding scheme with $200 million initially given to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) to distribute for emissions reduction. The aim is the decarbonisation of the state sector.

Ryan Holt, national programme manager for the Ministry of Education, says, “Our first priority was to replace coal boilers in schools. The Government’s goal is to get rid of coal boilers by 2025. So, that was the first cab off the rank as far as the Ministry was concerned in the decarbonisation of the portfolio.”

Paul Bull, EECA’s public sector portfolio manager, says replacing coal boilers in schools with low emission heating options is not only an important step in reducing the state sector’s carbon emissions, but also an opportunity for government to lead by example and demonstrate solutions that may be applicable to New Zealand businesses as they transition to a low carbon future.

The programme’s initial goal was to replace 90 coal boilers by the end of June 2023, which is estimated to reduce carbon emissions by about 5,000 tonnes a year. Now, with additional government funding announced in May, the programme’s goal is to replace all remaining coal boilers in New Zealand state schools by 2025. Current estimates are that there are about 150 remaining.

The process to replace the boilers has several steps. First the school is identified as having a coal boiler that needs to be replaced. EECA assesses the boiler replacement requirements for the school and makes a recommendation.

“EECA engineers provide a heating solutions report for each school following an onsite audit. The report outlines the options and recommends a solution based on technical and cost factors,” says Paul.

Ryan adds that for some schools this will not be a new conversation.

“Across the country many schools are part of the Enviroschools scheme. We would get ad hoc requests for ideas to make the school more environmentally friendly or more sustainable. So, a number of schools have asked about replacing their coal boiler.”

Focus on sustainability

Fiordland College is one such school. In Te Anau, the school has a strong focus on sustainability and environmental education.

“We have the National Park just on our doorstep, so it’s a hugely important part of our community to be able to reflect sustainable education, looking after our environment, and being proud of the really unique environment that we have here,” says principal Steven Mustor.

The school was built in 1976 and was outfitted with coal boilers which had collapsed and were rusted through. So, the school got a temporary replacement.

“They installed a diesel boiler, but it only had a small tank. If we had an event on, we never had enough diesel,” says Steve.

The school then looked at which options best met their goals of sustainability and being environmentally friendly, while also being cost effective. This included options such as solar panels.

“Solar works best if it can move in the right direction and stuff like that. If all your buildings are fixed from the 1970s when they were put in there you can’t really shift roofs and other bits and pieces. Whereas with replacing a boiler you’ve got existing infrastructure you can work with,” says Steve.

Fiordland College now has a high-tech woodchip boiler. The buffer tanks hold around 3,000 litres and can heat the school within half an hour of being turned on. The boiler requires little manpower to operate. The system can be pre-programmed to turn on at certain times and, if required, this can be altered using a phone app. There are also cameras in the bunker where the woodchips are stored so the level of chips can be monitored remotely.

There are many safety features, including the system stopping if a fire bell is activated, and it can detect if any flames escape along the funnel that transports the wood chips to the furnace. If this is detected the system will use an extinguisher and send an alert to the phone app.

As well as saving time, there are substantial gains beyond emissions reduction. The ash from the wood pellets can be distributed on school gardens (coal ash is toxic and must be land-filled). While burning wood creates CO2, plantation re-planting effectively means the CO2 is reabsorbed – therefore it is carbon neutral. It also produces 99 percent less CO2 than coal.

As well as wood pellet boilers there are other options such as air-to-air and air-to-water heat pumps.

Paul says EECA will discuss with the school what solution best fits their needs and infrastructure, as well as aiming for one that will most reduce the school’s energy use and ongoing costs.

For schools concerned about replacements causing disruption, Ryan offers reassurance.

“When we replace a boiler, we always try and replace it outside of the heating season. We’ll continue through the winter months doing the electric systems or the smaller systems where we can over a weekend or a short period of time. But the bigger schools or schools that really have a need for heating because of their location in the country, we pause through the winter months.”

Even though the boiler replacement team will be reaching out to schools, Ryan is keen to hear from schools that have questions or concerns about their boilers and the boiler replacement programme.

For more information or to provide feedback, email

Find out more about the School Boiler Programme(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:29 am, 21 July 2022

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