A carbon-zero future may seem like a far-fetched dream to some, but it is closer than we realize. To prove that fact – efficient and healthy schools are becoming a priority on our path to a decarbonized world. This progress is teaching us how to go about this carbon-free future goal, whether we are building new or are transitioning older school buildings.
We live, learn, and grow as we go. Energy efficiency is a prime example of that. We have a better understanding of carbon emissions than previous generations. And we are still learning every single day. As the federal and local governments roll out carbon emission taxes – more and more property owners are taking heed. Schools are fertile ground for making the necessary changes to ensure carbon neutrality and setting that example for their communities.
Whereas it is always easier to do it right the first time, in certain situations, it is necessary to take measured steps to gain ground. There are a lot of school buildings still in use from the 1950s and 60s. Those structures tend to have single-pane windows, gas-driven heat boilers, and other energy-consumption beasts. It’s true that they don’t make ‘em like they used to. We built equipment to last back in the day. And most of us agree, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, implementing energy-efficient processes in these circumstances is necessary. But it doesn’t have to be done all at once.
Expert energy modeling engineers are giving this advice – when it comes to older buildings and schools, think pre-plan. Review the capacity of your current equipment. Discern between life expectancy and what we now know is the most efficient way to produce energy. Electricity isn’t always the enemy.
Once a piece of equipment breaks down, then you can replace it with a more adequate carbon-conservative piece. Consider gas-fueled heat pumps as an example. They were built to perform at maximum capacity for large spaces. At the time, it was considered the preferred source of heat. But now we have better options. More importantly, we can determine a school’s carbon emissions by considering recent upgrades, future planned upgrades, and what the school’s current needs truly are. These attributes combined allow a school to progressively implement changes in a way that they know will benefit the environment long term.
Data will save the day
Run those numbers! There is a lot to consider when taking already existing buildings, especially schools from energy drainers to energy-efficient ones. We have numerous schools still in use that were built in the 50s and 60s. Transitioning those buildings from outdated boisterous energy consumers to more energy-efficient, conservative consumers is quite the task.
As with most projects, the more you know, the better you can repair, replace, and plan. We all know it pays to be prepared. As more energy-efficient equipment can be implemented as older pieces begin to malfunction. By studying the capacity of current systems and peak energy consumption periods, we can better select new and improved replacements.
Energy building modeling is a relatively new concept that affords property owners, including schools’ data on their current systems’ carbon emissions and how replacing certain equipment can better serve their buildings. This analysis can determine ideal HVAC systems and other options to help run their buildings as efficiently as possible.
Solar power for schools
Schools are also adding solar power to their campuses. Unfortunately, not all rooflines can handle the weight. As a result, those with funds are re-structuring the roofs so that they can bear the load. Others are adding ground models where space and land mass allow.
According to the 2020 annual IREC report, California, Arizona, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Indiana are the top five states for implementing solar power in their school districts. In fact, there are now over 7,300 schools across the country with solar installations. Yet, that is a mere 5.5% of our k-12 public and private schools in the U.S. These campuses are not only saving on utilities but also educating students about renewable energy.
There has been a dramatic reduction in the cost of solar panels that has helped fuel this advancement. Moreover, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act will also provide incentives to help institutions implement even more energy-efficient applications.
- Currently, 5.3 million students attend a school with solar in the United States.
- 79% of the solar installed on schools were financed by a third party, such as a solar developer.
- Solar-powered school districts have had significant savings on energy costs. For example, Tucson Unified School District in Arizona expects to save $43 million over 20 years.
- The Batesville School District in Arkansas used energy savings to become the highest-paying school district in the county. Teachers received up to $9,000 per year in raises.
Solar power has benefited school campuses with clean energy and lower utilities. Moreover, this form of energy harvesting helps to groom the next generation in implementing carbon neutrality throughout their personal lives.
Energy efficiency plus health
One of the greatest impacts of implementing energy-efficient equipment is the improvement in our health. Are you scratching your head and asking, “How so?” There is more to energy efficiency than solar or other carbon-free resources. Creating an environment in which we can all breathe deeply and feel energized is also a part of decarbonization.
Allow me to explain. Even lighting and interior comfort can impact the abilities of a student to learn or a teacher to teach. Numerous studies have been done on the subject and as a result, changes are being made in various schools across the country.
Healthy classrooms include clean air and adequate lighting. School classrooms can be uncomfortably hot for students, and glare from the sun can interfere with concentration. According to recent studies, adequate air circulation and proper lighting aid in maximum brain function.
As schools continue to lead the charge in energy efficiency, solar window film is popping up in schools in every state. Window films block UV and IR rays, help maintain interior comfort, and reduce glare. All of these features combined add to a healthier classroom environment for our youth to learn and work in.
Ultimately, schools have become finite examples of how to transition to carbon neutrality no matter how old the building is. It can be done and analyzing data, pre-planning, and implementing gradually can be the smartest way to create long-term positive change.
NGS has partnered with the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratories and the Department of Energy to facilitate solutions for clean energy and a healthy planet. We are proud to be a part of this process. Moreover, we look forward to continuing our work in schools across the country. NGS has been implementing energy-efficient and security window films in schools for over a decade. We are all aboard the “decarbonization of the world” train.
Watch our webinar on how the Inflation Reduction Act is promoting energy efficiency across the board in schools, as well as commercial buildings. The incentives stack up and can help any property owner move toward decarbonization.
Photo by Kyle Gregory Devaras