With more people becoming aware of their actual impact on the environment, we have begun to see major strides being taken by individuals, businesses, buildings and even governments to lower their environmental footprint. One of the ways to do that is net-zero energy buildings.
It’s not just about “going green” or getting LEED certification anymore (although I’d recommend both). These days, people want to get their homes and businesses completely off the grid. It’s about generating more energy than you need or use. Just like you need to burn more calories than you eat in order to lose weight, same goes for energy conservation. Generate more renewable energy than your building uses and you’ll save money and break the unhealthy bond between you and your utility provider.
One great example of a net-zero energy building is the Boutique Hotel Stadthalle in Vienna, which features these as part of their self-sustaining charm:
- Its solar panel wall can heat up enough hot water for the entire hotel.
- Rainwater is collected on the roof and used to water the roof-top gardens and grounds, as well as being utilized to flush the toilets.
- Electricity is provided by a photovoltaic solar power plant and three wind turbines.
- Drinking water is vitalized by natural stones.
But I digress….what’s really exciting is the fact that the first net-zero energy public school is scheduled to open this year in Warren County, Kentucky.
The Warren County Public School System is no stranger to saving energy though. They received the 2009 Andromeda Star of Energy Efficiency Award for their ongoing commitment to reducing energy in their schools while at the same time educating their students on the benefits of energy efficiency. Their accomplishments included saving more than $4 million in energy savings over the prior 4 years, 28% reduction in energy usage, Energy Star ratings on fourteen buildings and more.
Now, in collaboration with CMTA, (a leader in engineering energy-efficient, green and highly sustainable buildings and schools) and the LEED Accredited Professionals from Sherman Carter Barnhart, Warren County is gearing up to have the first zero energy public school in the United States - Richardsville Elementary School.
Some of the key features in this zero energy public school include: insulated concrete form wall construction, geothermal HVAC with CO2 monitoring, daylighting through light shelves and Solatubes®, compact two-story design with reduced building volume, thin roof-adhered thin film photovoltaic system, energy-efficient lighting, reduced plug loads for computers, reduced energy use in the kitchen, solar water heating, bioswales, etc.
As you can see in this design, the school has been laid out so it can reap the most rewards from renewable energy sources such as the sun and wind. (School images courtesy of Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects)
With the renewable energy sources on site, Richardsville Elementary will produce enough energy every year to cover 100% of its estimated energy usage. Additionally, they expect the new building will reduce energy consumption by 75%.
But remember, this zero energy school isn’t just about the building, it’s about the students too. They want their students learning about how energy works, how to be more energy-efficient and more.
So…laptops are recharged in the “solar hallway” where students can actually see how much energy is being received from the solar panels. The “geothermal hallway” has colored pipes and temperature gauges. In the “water conservation hallway” students can see how much rainwater has been collected and used to flush toilets in the school’s restrooms. The “recycling hallway” shows students how they are doing at recycling around the school. They even have a weather station out on the patio, which they plan to incorporate into math and science studies.
It’s pretty cool when you think about it. I definitely look forward to seeing this net-zero energy public school once construction is completed and its on its way to being completely off the grid! If you are interested, you can follow the construction of the school via the Warren County Public Schools’ website.
Do you have a school near you, maybe your kids’ school, that is taking measures towards being more energy-efficient and working on educating its students on how to so the same? Contact your state school board, maybe there is a net-zero energy school on its way in your area.