By Marissa Muller
School districts across the U.S.A. are coming up with creative solutions for reducing costs in the battle against budget shortfalls. In California alone, up to US$2 billion could be cut from this year’s school budget. This could mean more than a US$100 billion cut in K-12 education funding; US$100 million from Cal State; US$100 million from the University of California; and at least a US$30 million cut from community college budgets.
“If the Legislative Analyst’s forecast proves correct, mid-year cuts will bring yet another painful blow to California’s schools, which already have endured US$18 billion in reductions in recent years,” said Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Finding solutions for spending less on operating costs and freeing up funds to maintain quality educational standards has become of paramount importance for schools across the State that are facing harrowing budget cuts on the horizon.
Two schools--Napa Valley Unified School District’s American Canyon High School and Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego--are pioneering the way with resourceful solutions. With one designing and building a new high school with sustainability at its core to the other installing its second solar Photovoltaic (PV) system, along with their first solar thermal hot water system, these schools are taking action. Both schools are ratcheting up their already significant investment in sustainability, taking a long-term approach to generating millions in savings and hedging against increases in one of their largest operating expenses--the cost of energy. This means more money available for schools to invest in teachers and student programs, with the added bonus of transforming campuses into classrooms for ‘hands on’ learning experiences about sustainability. They are just one leading example of how school districts can plan for the future by slashing their energy spending and reducing fossil fuel consumption while teaching young people about renewable energy at the same time.
Sustainable Design--From the Ground Up
American Canyon High School in Napa Valley Unified School District, which opened in the fall of 2010, is considered one of the most sustainable, energy-efficient public high schools in the country.
In November 2011, the school completed a 1-megawatt DC solar power system--designed, engineered and installed by SPG Solar. Figure 1 showcases the solar power system mounted on the rooftop and Figure 2 is the installation on the ground of the campus, providing students easy access to learn about solar energy and monitor the electricity generation through a real-time monitoring display. The over 4,000 American-made solar panels will reduce energy costs by 25% and provide the school with US$17 million in savings on electricity bills over the next 25 years. As utility electricity costs escalate, American Canyon High School will find price stability through their solar power system, allowing them to better plan their budget and allocate those savings to students and teachers.
With several sustainable design components in addition to the solar installation, American Canyon High School has been certified by the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS)--a green building rating system for K-12 school, similar to LEED for Schools. American Canyon High School is the highest-ranking CHPS verified school in California.
“By building upon the sustainable design of the American Canyon High School campus and showing their commitment to the environment, the Napa Valley Unified School District will save a significant amount of money that can now be used for educational purposes,” said Aaron Jobson, Quattrocchi Kwok Architects--the firm that designed American Canyon High School.
Additional sustainable design components:
-Automatic lighting controls that dim electric lights when there is enough daylight to light a classroom.
-An extensive ground-source heat-pump system with individual units for each classroom, that both decreases noise within the classroom--by replacing loud HVAC systems--and saves money though energy efficiency.
-Water-saving features include low-flow fixtures, dual-flush toilets, waterless urinals and using reclaimed, non-potable water to irrigate landscape.
A Campus Showcasing Solar from Every Angle
Installing solar energy systems at universities has become a national trend in recent years. In fact, solar power capacity in the higher education sector has grown 450% over the past three years alone, according to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). In 2010 alone, 84 colleges and universities installed solar energy systems on their campuses, notes AASHE.
PLNU in San Diego, CA, integrated solar early on, partnering with SPG Solar in 2008 to install their first solar power system on four prominent facilities, including a residence hall and the gymnasium. At this time, the PLNU system was recognized as one of California’s largest PV installations for a private university. Now, in 2011, they have completed their second solar installation, spanning two rooftops and five solar carports, bringing the University to nearly 1-megawatt DC of solar energy generation. Cumulatively, these systems will provide a savings of US$2 million over the next 20 years. Figure 3 depicts the solar installations blanketing much of the campus. Students are constantly interacting and immersed in solar power. It has become a part of their daily lives (See Figure 4 and 5)─looking at solar while running along the track or parking a car under a solar carport en route to a surf outing.
“I love that our school has such a strong commitment to solar energy,” said Daniel Virden, President of Students for Environmental Action and Awareness at PLNU. “The panels across the campus are a visible reminder of the administration’s pursuit of responsible stewardship of the earth. I look forward to seeing what other ways our campus will incorporate sustainability and continue to lead the way.”
The University continues to invest in solar. Concurrent with the solar photovoltaic systems, they invested in a 54-kilowatt solar water heating system, installed by Adroit Solar. The system will provide an estimated 940 gallons of hot water a day to the student dorms and save the university US$5,000 annually on utility bills.
These projects were strongly influenced by PLNU students, who as part of a class project, participated in the Request for Proposal (RFP) process and teamed up with the sustainability department, PLNU administration and facilities managers. Additionally, the solar thermal system was financed by the Student Green Fund, a US$5 semester fee initiated by students to provide funding for sustainability efforts.
A Winning Future
By reducing and stabilizing costs with solar, these schools are providing a long-term solution for education funding challenges. But the impact is far greater than just financial savings and a hedge against rising electricity rates; solar is changing the face of education across America, spreading from rooftop to classroom, into course curricula, and moving to research labs.
American Canyon High School and PLNU are leading the way, investing in a new financial model to avert a budget crisis in education. And they are playing a role in shaping America’s next generation of leaders by providing students a competitive advantage--fostering an educational environment that encourages creativity and inspires game-changing innovation.
Marissa Muller is the Senior Manager of Marketing at SPG Solar (www.spgsolar.com). Marissa leverages her four years of CNN knowledge, as well as her solar and wind experiences to help drive SPG Solar’s continued success as a national solar energy company, delivering the highest quality, most reliable solar power systems. She holds a degree in Journalism from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters from IESE Business School.
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