In order to reduce energy waste in our nation’s schools, the US Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative has launched a Zero Energy Schools Accelerator. This new program is one of over 12 accelerators designed to demonstrate specific innovative policies and approaches. Each Accelerator is a “targeted, short-term, partner-focused activity designed to address persistent barriers that stand in the way of greater efficiency.”
Our long-time partner, Arlington Public Schools, is one of six school districts, two states, and several national organizations that are working collaboratively to develop zero energy school design that is cost-competitive to conventional construction in the education sector and in local communities throughout the country. As part of the Zero Energy Schools launch, Associate Principal Wyck Knox led Energy Department officials and other key stakeholders on a tour of Discovery Elementary School this week.
Discovery Elementary School opened in September 2015 as one of the first zero energy schools on the East Coast. As the first newly constructed APS elementary school in over 10 years, the 98,000 square foot facility incorporated local community feedback and accommodated the growing district while operating at a 66% lower energy use intensity (EUI) compared to the school district’s average.
Our design team set an ambitious energy goal for Discovery – achieving an EUI of 23 kBTU/sf/year – one third of the energy use of a typical County school. This ultra-low EUI makes on-site photovoltaic energy generation possible within a traditional school budget. To achieve this goal, the school included energy saving solutions such as distributed on-demand pumps for the geothermal system, daylighting supplemented with 100% LED lighting, high thermal mass exterior walls, and solar-thermal water pre-heating for the kitchen.
"We are probably saving about $78,000 a year on this building,” said Assistant Superintendent for Arlington Public Schools John Chadwick.
Through programs like the Zero Energy Schools Accelerator, schools have the potential to save up to 80% in energy consumption, depending on their climate. By successfully employing aggressive energy efficiency opportunities, school districts could redirect funds toward other needs, including salaries for teachers, computers, or books. K12 schools are some of the best zero energy candidates as the number of new schools continues to grow. Educational spaces account for a substantial portion of the building construction and renovation industry, a figure that has grown consecutively over the past four years.
As Discovery has demonstrated in its first year of operation, zero energy schools can make a huge difference in the learning environment for students. Improved ventilation and daylighting are used extensively in most zero energy schools. Light is celebrated in multiple ways at Discovery, culminating in a rooftop solar lab that allows students to conduct real time and on-going experiments. Data from these experiments can be tracked and graphed using a building dashboard system accessible on any device in the school.
The goal of the Zero Energy Schools Accelerator is to quickly make zero energy K-12 schools more mainstream. Like Arlington Public Schools, other partner school districts have committed 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.
Check out the Better Buildings’ Zero Energy Schools Accelerator page for more on how zero energy construction supports cost savings from reduced energy usage, prevention of greenhouse gas emissions, and improved learning environments.