6 school districts, two states among first to make zero energy schools mainstream

The U.S. Department of Energy has launched the Better Buildings Zero Energy Schools Accelerator as a part of the Obama Administration’s effort to cut energy waste in America’s buildings.

Six school districts, two states and several national organizations are working collaboratively to develop zero energy design that is cost-competitive to conventional construction in the education sector and in local communities across the nation, according to a department press release.

A zero energy building is an energy-efficient building, where on a source energy basis, the actual delivered energy is less than or equal to the onsite renewable exported energy.

In conjunction with the launch, Energy Department officials joined other key stakeholders to tour Discovery Elementary School, a zero energy school in Arlington, Va., which opened its doors in September 2015. Discovery’s engineering team expects to offset its energy usage with renewable energy and to potentially save about $75,000 within its first year of operation.

Discovery Elementary is one of 40 emerging zero energy-ready schools in the U.S. and was built with advanced next-generation energy efficiency and renewable power features, including solar rooftop and geothermal heating and cooling systems.

“Through the Better Buildings Zero Energy Schools Accelerator, partners commit to real savings,” said Kathleen Hogan, U.S. Department of Energy’s deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency. “By using the most energy-efficient technologies and engaging students and the local community, school districts can lead the way in saving taxpayer dollars and creating more resilient and first-in-class educational facilities.”

Through programs like the Zero Energy Schools Accelerator, zero energy schools have the potential to save 65 to 80 percent in energy consumption, depending on the climate zone.  

By aggressively pursuing energy efficiency opportunities, school districts could dedicate these savings toward other learning needs, including salaries for teachers, computers or books, Energy Department officials said. Further, the number of K-12 schools continue to grow and can serve as a model for other new construction sectors. The education sector accounts for a substantial portion of the building construction and renovation industry, a figure that has grown consecutively over four years.

In addition to saving money for taxpayers, zero energy schools also make a difference in the learning environment for students. Improved ventilation and daylighting are used extensively in most zero energy schools and studies have shown that both these strategies help improve the learning environment.  Teachers are also able to transform classrooms into 3D engagement opportunities with the student body by using energy dashboards and new technologies as teaching tools.

The goal is to quickly make Zero Energy K-12 schools more mainstream. Partner school districts commit to developing their own zero energy plans for a district project within a year. They can also engage with fellow states and school districts, and leverage support from regional and national organizations, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships, the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project, Southern California Edison, The Energy Coalition, New Buildings Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute, and the National Association of State Energy Officials.

The first participating school districts are:

  • Hermosa Beach City School District (Hermosa Beach, Calif.)
  • LA Unified School District (Los Angeles)
  • Arlington School District (Arlington, Va.)
  • Boulder Valley School District (Boulder, Colo.)
  • Adams 12 – Five Star Schools (Thornton, Colo.)
  • Douglas County School District (Douglas County, Colo.)
  • State of Minnesota Schools
  • State of California Schools

Better Buildings Accelerators are part of the broader Better Buildings Initiative, which aims to make commercial, public, industrial and residential buildings 20 percent more energy efficient over the next decade. 

Topics: Architectural Firms, Associations / Organizations, Automation and Controls, Building Owners and Managers, Construction Firms, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Daylighting / Skylights / Natural Lighting, Educational Buildings, Engineering Firms, Geothermal Heating and Cooling, Healthy & Comfortable Buildings, Sustainable Communities, Technology, Urban Planning and Design

Companies: U.S. Department of Energy

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