Schools Must Teach About and Implement Climate Solutions Now.
Students have good reason to be optimistic about the future, providing society and schools react now with education and implementation. There may be no simplistic single solution to Climate Change, but there are many partial solutions that collectively can suffice to stave off the most drastic consequences, including as we work to devise more solutions. Action must include not only highways and office buildings, but schools. In fact, schools should become leaders and model stewardship of the environment, instead of ignorance. Here are some of the solutions we can put to effective use, and teach about, now!
Solar is now the lowest form cost of electricity according to a broad range of experts including Lazard, a leading global investment advisory firm that regularly crunches the numbers on energy. (Lazard 2020 Energy.) Many people are mistaken on cost and think that solar is expensive. It is past time to debunk this myth. In fact, it is because savvy schools want to save money and strengthen their brand, both as smart innovators and leaders, that over 7000 public and private K-12 schools now have solar. At 5%, it's a good start, but far from enough. Like them, most schools today would save money by installing solar now. Solar can readily be installed on school buildings and rooftops - which also makes roofs less hot, in turn reducing the need for energy-intensive air conditioning. Solar can also go on school parking lots. Or, it can be purchased from an off-site installation. There is, in other words, no good excuse for not using solar energy at your school. The example of Norfolk Academy in Virginia illustrates some basic concepts about financing solar installations, including PPAs, or Purchase Power Agreements, and how schools save money and decrease their carbon footprint at the same time by going solar.
According to the U.S. Government, energy costs are the largest expense for school districts following personnel costs. Energy efficient products may cost more to purchase but have lower operating costs (and lowest cost over 5 years of operation) while also reducing a school’s carbon footprint. Schools should choose equipment with the lowest total lifecycle cost. Your school should buy only EnergyStar rated products. Energy Star is a program run by the government that rates the efficiency of equipment. The benefits can be unexpectedly large. For example, more efficient lights that are high EnergyStar rated not only last longer, but produce less heat, which in turn reduces air conditioning costs, and, in turn again, requires a smaller, less expensive air conditioning unit to cool. (EnergyStar.)
All too often schools make their parking lots, pathways, and roofs out of dark and non-reflective materials. As a result, these surfaces absorb almost all of the sun's heat, making schools hotter, increasing and contributing to global warming and Climate Change. It’s the same concept at work that leads you to wear a light instead of a dark shirt when out for a long run in the hot sun, but on a global scale. By contrast, light or reflective surfaces (surfaces with high albedo) bounce most heat back into space, reducing both the air conditioning bill and heat discomfort, as well as carbon footprint. Smart surfaces include reflective surfaces, green surfaces such as green roofs, porous surfaces, trees, light-colored parking lots instead of blacktop, sidewalks and pathways, and solar photovoltaics. In addition to reflecting heat back, all of these surfaces manage rain more effectively than traditional surfaces. Together, they reduce the temperature of school grounds materially - by up to 5-10 degrees in the summer months. See: smartsurfacescoalition.org for more info, and watch The Smart Surface Transformation Story below.
GROUND SOURCE HEAT PUMPS
Temperature in the ground is highly stable year round. Ground source heat pumps harness this to use as a heat source during the winter and as a source of cooling in the summer.
This is ideal if your school is expanding existing structures or building new buildings. On average, ground source heat pumps typically provides half the heating and cooling for buildings with no energy costs or negative climate impact.
POWER PURCHASE AGREEMENTS
Purchase power agreements, more commonly known as PPAs are a way for your school to be as much clean energy as your school requires at a fixed price. Most schools do not have enough roof and parking lot space to cover with solar to reach net zero, so PPAs can be a way to be inexpensive long term carbon-free solar. PPAs can also be used to creatively finance solar installations on site. The Norfolk Academy, discussed as a Sample Project on this site, is one example.