Students at two kiwi public schools will be starting the new year in a classroom that can be heated with clean energy – after kicking coal to the curb.

A further 11 public schools in New Zealand are forecasted to have their coal boilers replaced with a low-emission alternative by the winter heating season (April), with seven of these due to be completed by the end of February alone.

These forecasted installations include Murchison Area School, Windsor North School in Invercargill, and East Otago High School in Palmerston.

“Coal boilers are big polluters – they are a significant contributor to the carbon footprint of a school, and pose health and safety risks. It is very straightforward to switch out for low-emissions alternatives, which is exactly what the government has set out to do,” said Richard Briggs, Public Sector Group Manager at EECA.

A total of 42 coal boilers have already been replaced through the Ministry of Education Te Tāhuhu o Te Mātauranga (the Ministry) School Coal Boiler Replacement Programme. It is intended for all remaining coal boilers to be replaced in public schools by 2025.

Coal boilers still provide heating and hot water to around 87 public schools in New Zealand – and are being replaced by renewable wood pellet boilers or electric heating sources.

“We’re working through the remaining schools based on the current condition of the coal boilers – those with older, less reliable boilers will go through the replacement process sooner,” said Ismael Costa, Acting National Programme Manager for the Ministry.

The removal of the boilers is also opening up opportunities for students to become actively involved in the sustainability journey of their school.

As part of the programme, the Ministry is encouraging its contractors to promote environmental education when they install the new heating solution.

“This includes artwork on new containerised pellet boilers, native plantings around the new equipment, and even QR codes that the students and parents can scan, to tell the story of the sustainability journey,” said Costa.

“We’re pleased to be doing our bit to help tackle climate change - replacing coal boilers with low carbon heating systems is better for the health of our tamariki, our community and our planet.” 

Programme at a glance

  • The Ministry of Education’s School Coal Boiler Replacement Programme has a budget of $75 million.
  • The programme is co-funded through The Government’s $220 million State Sector Decarbonisation Fund (administered by EECA), which supports the Carbon Neutral Government Programme in accelerating the reduction of energy emissions within the public sector.
  • The Ministry of Education coordinates the delivery of the projects across schools and allocated $10 million from their own budget.
  • The programme is expected to replace all remaining coal boilers in public schools by 2025.
  • There are around 87 public schools that still use coal boilers in New Zealand.
  • The replacement programme is expected to reduce the State sector’s carbon emissions by around 89,000 tonnes over 10 years – the equivalent of taking 3662 cars off the road.

Most school coal boilers are replaced with either an electric solution – similar to larger versions of heat pumps used in homes across New Zealand, or a ‘wood pellet boiler’, which is often installed in a shipping container.

Wood pellet boilers are powered by renewable wood pellets, which do not add fossil carbon to the atmosphere. Replacing a coal boiler with a wood pellet boiler will reduce its overall emissions (CO2 equivalent) by up to 99%. The wood pellets are made from shavings and dust generated by wood processing, which would otherwise be considered a ‘waste’ product.

“Putting things into containers isn’t a new concept in New Zealand – but we’re adapting them for a new, innovative purpose,” said Phil Thorpe, General Manager of Decarbonisation Initiatives at Aquaheat Facilities Services.

“These containerised boilers are a safe, clean solution for schools, particularly where electrical heating solutions aren’t the right answer.

“The wood pellets are effectively carbon neutral – the amount of CO2 released is equivalent to the amount absorbed during the growth of the trees – so it’s recycled in a way.”

EECA and the Ministry of Education are encouraging schools to use their boiler transitions to take students and parents on the sustainability journey, alongside other climate action initiatives that are practical for their school.

Find out more about the school coal boiler replacement programme here;

Boilers for school heating – Education in New Zealand(external link)

Coal Boiler Fact Sheet [PDF 60 KB]

Find out more about the State Sector Decarbonisation Fund here;

State sector decarbonisation fund | EECA

Additional Information

EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) supports the completion of a study for each school that is involved in the programme – that then recommends the best type of low emission heating replacement for the specific school, based on technical and cost factors.

An initial goal of the State Sector Decarbonisation Fund is to phase out coal boilers across New Zealand, schools supported the focus of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, given coal is more emissions intensive than other fossil fuels.

EECA is the government agency that works to improve the energy efficiency of New Zealand's homes and businesses, and encourages the uptake of renewable energy. Our purpose is to mobilise New Zealanders to be world leaders in clean and clever energy use.

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