Building efficiency is the largest sector of North Carolina’s clean and renewable energy industry. It employs more than 12,700 workers and drives $2.3 billion into North Carolina’s economy. Education probably isn’t the first sector that comes to mind when thinking about energy efficiency; however, increasing our schools’ efficiency could save $1.5 billion in utility costs per year. North Carolina boasts public schools right in its backyard that are nationally recognized for their energy efficiency.
Sandy Grove Middle School in Lumber Bridge opened its doors in 2013 as the first net-positive energy, LEED platinum designed public school in the country. Its energy efficient features include 2,300 solar panels (which generate more power than the school uses), LED lighting, energy-efficient HVAC; and a geothermal heating and cooling system.
This geothermal system uses the earth’s natural ground temperature to heat and cool the school. Regardless of above-ground temperatures, the earth’s internal temperature remains close to constant, allowing geothermal systems to use the earth as a heating source during the winter and act as a heat discharge keeping temperatures cool during the summer months.
Northside Elementary School in Chapel Hill incorporates a roof garden connected to a science classroom, tubular skylights, energy-efficient windows, light shelves to maximize daylight in classrooms and reduce the energy spent for lighting, and a complete stormwater management system.
Energy-efficient windows leak less air, containing the cool or warm air (depending on the season) inside the building, saving money on utility bills. The stormwater management system uses a storage tank that collects rainwater and uses it to supply water to toilet fixtures, cooling towers, and playground areas. The system repurposes rainwater instead of pulling from a water reserve.
Pollard Middle School in Chapel Hill is using energy efficiency to its advantage also. Pollard uses natural daylighting in 93 percent of its classrooms and a wide variety of efficient lighting, including revolutionary Solatube Skylights. These lights are connected to the school’s rooftop. They gather light throughout the day, amplifying the natural light when it’s light outside and using stored energy at night.
The school maintains a recycled water irrigation system, in addition to a solar preheating water system and geothermal heating and cooling. Pollard maintains its indoor air quality through effective ventilation and uses spray foam insulation in exterior wall cavities to reduce air infiltration.
Pollard Middle School was the first middle school in North Carolina to be awarded LEED Gold certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.
On top of energy cost savings, studies show that people exposed to natural light are more productive, achieve a better sense of well-being, and are more positive. Thus, by incorporating natural light into classrooms, children have the potential to be better students.
The use of energy efficiency in schools directly affects our children. With the immense monetary savings, school districts can hire more teachers to educate our children – the leaders of tomorrow. Schools can buy better textbooks and alternative learning programs to reinforce what our educators are teaching kids in school. Energy efficient schools are helping to create a brighter, better future for North Carolina’s students.
Do you know any schools making the shift to energy efficiency?