By Terri Steele
The installation of the Rocky Mountain State’s first solar-powered bike port has Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) administrators gearing up for what could be the first LEED-certified campus in the district’s 50-year history. Instead of going for energy gold, they’re pursuing LEED Platinum certification, the U.S. Green Building Association’s .pinnacle standard for high-performing structures whose sustainable practices optimize human and environmental health.
Like the leading-edge sustainability strategy Boulder Valley is implementing for its 28,500 students, the 26.78 kW solar bike port─installed as part of Casey Middle School’s transformation into a 110,000 square-foot energy efficiency icon─offers a pay-off well beyond its primary purpose.
Sure, the solar bike port protects students and their bicycles from the elements. And by its very nature it supports a viable transportation alternative for students concerned about the carbon emitted by fossil-fuel guzzling vehicles. But it’s also an electricity-generating clean energy system that will provide BVSD administrators with a welcome 38,810 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year.
“We wanted this PV system to be a high-profiled part of the overall building design that served multiple purposes,” explained Boulder Valley School District Project Manager Lou Novak. He says the solar bike port’s location was chosen for solar access and its proximity to the optimal student bike parking location, where the solar panels would also help shade south-facing windows.
“We positioned the array in front of the school’s preserved 1924 building facade to symbolize not only a commitment to Casey’s rich history, but our entire community’s awareness of the importance of using renewable energy sources,” Novak said. “It also reflects the need to be personally accountable by acting as good environmental stewards.”
Personal accountability─and perhaps a bit of peer pressure─are ensuring the bike port is full to capacity. The bike port comes with a system monitor attached to a kiosk where kids can learn the green aspects of biking to school. Students can also determine who among them actually did so via sensors that are attached to students’ backpacks.
“This bike port is more than an energy generator,” laughs Steve Bauhs, Director of Marketing and Sales for solar bike port installer Simple Solar. “It’s an educational tool and lifestyle conscience.”
Systems like the solar bike port not only lower a school’s monthly electricity bills, they help public agencies (or their funding agents) reap the benefits of local, state and federal renewable energy incentive programs.
According to Novak, BVSD has already collected US$49,275 in the form of a US$2.25 per watt rebate from local utility Xcel Energy. And the project will reap an estimated US$70,680 in Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) over the course of the next 20 years. REC payments depend on the actual number of kWh produced and the REC rate commitments of Xcel Energy.
But the value of this simple solar solution treads beyond traditional economic incentives.
“The design and location of Casey’s solar bike port also allow administrators to enjoy a phenomenon known as shadow voltaics, which shields Casey’s south-facing office windows from the glaring sun, optimizing electricity production while reducing the school’s energy consumption,” noted Simple Solar founder and CTO Joe Callahan.
Callahan says the Simple Solar team added their own dimension to the solar bike port’s utility by employing SANYO’s versatile HIT Power® Double bifacial modules for the project. SANYO’s translucent HIT Power Doubles are designed to collect light from the top and bottom of panel surfaces, generating up to130% more power per square foot.
Simple Solar has designed and installed solar PV solutions for seven schools─five of them in the Boulder Valley School District. “Every one of the solar systems we’ve installed for local schools has been unique and interesting,” said Callahan, whose company has been serving the front range for over 12 years.
“The solar bike port is particularly so in that it’s a functional, energy─saving structure that looks fantastic! You can tell the panels are HIT Doubles because you can see right through them. When the sun is shining, you really get a full appreciation of the aesthetics of this array,” he said.
Upon commissioning, Callahan says SANYO’s HIT Power Doubles were producing at 125% of their certified power ratings. “More energy output per dollar invested is a quick way to earn extra credit with any solar customer!” he exclaimed.
What’s getting students, teachers, parents and administrators collectively energized about Casey Middle School’s solar bike port is its viability as a cross-curricular, cross-generational teaching tool.
“There’s a big educational component to almost every installation we do for a school,” said Callahan, “We work hard to ensure that any school is not just leaving the panels on the roof to passively generate electricity, but that they’re producing something more─like we see here at Casey Middle School.”
“We get the students involved, discuss why solar is installed, how it works and what the benefits are so they can be aware of where our energy comes from, how to use it wisely and how we can harness the alternatives nature provides─resources like wind, sun, hydro and waves, currents and tides─to get that energy for free!” Callahan continued.
Callahan thinks solar economics could have a role in any solar-powered school’s educational curriculum. “The monitoring system provides great opportunities to initiate exercises using real-life and real-time data,” he suggests. “Students can translate production of kilowatt hours into how many dollars they’re making (or saving) for the school.”
“Kids are optimistic about the future, so quick. They get really excited about this technology. It’s something they all should have the opportunity to work with,” he concluded.
That philosophy reinforces what Boulder Valley School District─whose students are among the highest performing in the U.S.─has established for Casey Middle School.
“Casey Middle School is a dynamic and exciting learning community that works to engage students, parents, and faculty from an array of cultures. Our students are challenged to thrive academically via rigorous programs that are relevant, hands-on and future-oriented,” said Casey Middle School Principal Alison Boggs.
Casey Middle School’s solar bike port─ the largest solar Photovoltaic (PV) installation in the district─offers students, teachers, administrators (even parents) ample opportunity to learn about energy history, production and consumption, economics, photovoltaic technology, weather patterns, America’s reliance on imported fossil fuels and how sustainable living can drive more prudent use of our energy resources and create healthier, cleaner, more prosperous communities─for generations to come.
“We at Simple Solar are of like mind with the Boulder Valley School District. Today’s kids are brilliant─and they have potential to become teachers by taking these messages home, where they may get their parents thinking about acting themselves─at home or their place of business. We subscribe to this kind of hands-on educational curriculum because we know children are our future,” said Simple Solar’s Bauhs. “It’s not just a phrase or a song lyric. It’s the truth.”
“Boulder Valley School District is looking into all of its options for reducing its environmental impact, from healthier learning environments to how we are educating students. We are continually looking for opportunities to expand renewables with an emphasis on the educational value of these systems,” said Boulder Valley School District Sustainability Coordinator Ghita Carroll, Ph.D. Carroll was hired in 2008 to implement a comprehensive sustainability strategy for the district and has been hard at work ever since.
Inside the school, slanted ceilings, large, dual-paned, energy efficient windows and 134 sola-tubes maximize the building’s passive solar capabilities. Classroom lights automatically adjust to changing ambient light patterns. Casey’s new structure is 20% larger than the original school, yet it’s reduced its energy consumption by a whopping 54%.
Carroll says since the solar bike port’s October 2010 installation, students have shown an increased awareness of solar power and energy production, and are enjoying learning how their school’s green features help lower their environmental footprint. And the enthusiasm is expanding beyond the student body to embrace teachers, parents and professionals from other schools─both within and outside of Boulder Valley.
The efficiencies and energy management systems introduced at Casey Middle School ─from geothermal heating and cooling system to the new solar bike port─are affording the entire Boulder community the opportunity to see how their choices can have a positive or negative impact on today’s environment that affects future generations.
What’s more, Casey Middle School’s entire energy conservation strategy will save BVSD administrators a whopping US$127,454 in annual utility costs over the life of the system─and that’s without accounting for rising energy prices. That’s a verified payback of only 3.3 years from when the newly-renovated school opened for business.
The entire scope of the campus’s live energy and water data can be viewed online at http://casey.bvsd.greentouchscreen.com/. Students and the public-at-large can view the solar bike port’s energy production at http://bvsdcasey.d.egauge.net/ .
“There is a constant stream of officials from within and outside the district inquiring about all of the green features at Casey. We are offering tours of the school and answering questions from interested individuals on a regular basis,” said Carroll. “We want to show them how even the simplest solutions can have a profound impact.”
Any day now, the BVSD team is poised to hear that the brilliant green features of their energy-smart Casey Middle School have struck inspirational gold. They’re hoping that gold translates into LEED Platinum.
The axle in the wheel of Boulder Valley’s success is the tremendous amount of community support it receives. In 2006, voters approved a tax increase of nearly US$300 million for capital improvements to ensure its students can learn in stimulating, efficiently-designed environments that will make them competitive well into the 21st Century.
“We understand that many schools do not have a lot of money to embark upon projects like this, but there are a lot of creative ways to make solar work,” said Simple Solar’s Director of Marketing and Sales Steve Bauhs, whose company has installed solar solutions on seven school campuses.
“Our clients have initiated all kinds of innovative ways to fund their solar solutions. Sometimes, students are out raising funds. Smart school administrators leverage local and state grants or take advantage of PPAs and other creative financing tools,” Bauhs explained. They also solicit private grants from philanthropists and donations from solar companies.
“This region’s elected officials have been very supportive of renewable energy solutions. They understand the economic benefits to home owners, schools and businesses, the job creating benefits to contractors and installers─and, of course, the environmental benefits to preserve the air and water quality of our majestic state,” said Simple Solar Co-Founder and CTO Joe Callahan.
Among the programs officials have rolled out to constituencies are the Boulder Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Grants (BREEE), Boulder’s ClimateSmart Solar Grant Program, a Solar Sales & Use Tax Incentive, Boulder County’s EnergySmart Energy Efficiency Loan Program and its complement, the EnergySmart Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program.
“There’s a rule of thumb that for every US$1 spent on energy efficiency, US$3 to US$5 can be saved on the cost of a renewable energy solution,” noted Bauhs.
There are also incentives offered by the Governor’s office and the State of Colorado, among them the New Energy Economic Development Grant Program. The US Department of Energy’s Database for State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), offers a comprehensive Web site identifying available solar incentives at the state, local and federal levels. Find incentives for all 50 states at www.dsireusa.org.
“We have a variety of ways to make solar happen in Colorado,” Callahan says. “You factor in creative financing solutions like PPAs and instruments like that, and it’s definitely doable. It just takes a little creativity and thought─and finding the right solar partner─to make it all work.”
Now that’s something progressive school districts like Boulder Valley have in abundance! And with annual energy savings of US$127,454─and graduates who consistently score well above the state and national averages on ACT and SAT college entrance exams─Boulder Valley School District’s got the numbers to prove it.
Terri Steele is a San Diego-based freelance writer and marketing expert who covers newsmakers in the solar photovoltaics, EV and PHEV space.
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