High Tech, Big Impact: Energy Efficiency Tools for Schools
Fifty-five million students spend their days in over 130,000 school buildings in the U.S. The huge majority of those schools are significant energy consumers and contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
But schools can lead the way in energy efficiency and sustainable resource. With the ability to teach children and their families by example, schools can help transform the world’s energy and resource consumption from a destructive model to more sustainable models.
What can schools do?
- Take advantage of high-tech 21st Century tools to drastically reduce energy use.
- Engage students in performing energy audits and learning about the school's energy performance.
There are three aspects to saving energy in schools: 1) Infrastructure -- high-performance facilities, 2) Behavior -- turning off lights, computers, 3) Tracking and monitoring progress. Here are a few tools to consider:
1. Solar Tracking Skylights:
GPS-enabled solar tracking skylights are here.
Schools can reduce electricity use by using solar tracking skylights to generate up to 4 times as much light as traditional skylights.
Solar tracking skylights use GPS-enabled mirrors to track the sun's movement across the sky, and then reflect the light evenly into the building. No external power source is needed -- each skylight is powered by a built-in solar cell. In the summer, the skylight's reflectors reduce light levels and solar heat by 20%, according to Treehugger.com.
Businesses like Patagonia, Ace Hardware, and Whole Foods are realizing energy and cost savings with solar tracking skylights, as are many cities throughout the U.S. and abroad. At Office Depot's LEED Gold certified store in Austin, TX, solar tracking skylights now provide 75 percent of the store's daytime lighting.
Treehugger.com offers a nuts & bolts comprehensive description of Ciralight's "Suntracker One" solar skylight.
According to the manufacturer, the typical return on investment through energy savings alone is "15-35% or more, depending on a number of factors -- percentage of sunny days, latitude, cost per kWh, days of operation, tax rate, government or utility rebates, peak kWh rates, etc."
2. Turn Off the PCs!
One school desktop PC left on during nights and weekends wastes up to $100 and emits an unnecessary 620 lbs of CO2 per year. Switching off desktop PCs nights and weekends can produce big energy and cost savings. (See Computer Energy Use Under Scrutiny)
Schools and districts using desktop PC's can save energy and money by installing an automatic shutdown tool to turn off school desktops at a specified time.
Auto Shutdown Manager (ASDM), the tool in trial use with desktop PCs at UC Berkeley, saved $8,000 and 57,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) in less than a year. Enviroprot.com, maker of ASDM, estimates cost savings of $50-100 per year per computer using ASDM.
Schools pay a one-time fee to install the tool, depending on size of school and number of PCs. Energy and cost savings depend on the number of PCs in use, and the number of computers typically left on.
UC Berkeley's Dr. David Culler -- Professor of Computer Science and Associate CIO of the College of Engineering -- thinks all the other tools are "garbage." "We surveyed much of the space. We looked at all of the free tools, the open tools, the for-pay tools… ASDM is light years ahead of anything else I’ve seen in the industry. It was quick to bring up, and the instructions for how to do it were quite simple.” Dr. Culler added that the tool is an extremely good value.
There are multiple free and fee-based PC shutdown tools on the market. For a comparison, see eHow's discussion, Auto Shutdown Tools.
3. CHPS Operations Report Card:
Studies have shown that students attending schools in poor condition score 11% lower on standardized tests than those who attend schools in good condition. (See Finding the Next Best Opportunity for Green in Existing Schools.)
By contrast, high performance schools are environments that include the attributes required for a quality education: they're energy and resource efficient, healthy, comfortable, and well-lit. (See our page on the massive high-performance renovations taking place in schools in Washington, D.C.)
You can find out where your school stands on the high-performance spectrum by using the Operations Report Card (ORC), an interactive online tool developed by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). CHPS is a green-building rating program designed for K-12 schools, and supports the design, construction and operation of high-performance schools.
Schools gather facilities, survey, and other data as they progress through the ORC program. Based on that data, the ORC evaluates the current performance of existing schools in five areas: energy efficiency, thermal comfort, visual comfort, indoor air quality, and acoustics.
It then produces a simple, understandable "report card" of results, with a score that indicates where the school stands on the spectrum of high-performance, as well as customized suggestions for improvements. Intended for district-wide use in multiple school sites, the ORC can also be useful to individual public, private, or charter schools.
Incremental per school costs: 1-2 Schools registered, $900; 3-4 schools, $700; 5 or more schools, $500. (e.g., if a district registers five schools, the cost is 2 x $900 + 2 x $700 + $500 = $3700. )
To learn more: Operations Report Card or try On-Demand trainings
4. Energy Star for K-12 Schools
The Energy Star for Schools program helps facilities decision-makers improve their school’s energy performance and achieve Energy Star certification for their buildings. Top performing ENERGY STAR labeled schools can cost up to forty cents less to operate per square foot than average performers. Any educational organization, public or private, can partner with Energy Star to achieve savings.
Resources include online training sessions, information about evaluating your school's energy performance and financing energy projects; a list of ENERGY STAR qualified products, and Energy Star School Success Stories. Start at Energy Star for K-12 School Districts and click on ENERGY STAR Menu of Offerings for K-12.