The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that America’s schools spend more than $6 billion each year on energy costs alone. Through better design, energy-efficient technologies, and operations and maintenance improvements, the DOE believes schools could save 25 percent of that amount across the country. “That’s $1.5 billion! Imagine how many books, computers, and teachers we could have with that kind of money,” says Daniel Sze, national program manager, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), Washington, D.C.
To reach that admirable goal, the DOE formed the EnergySmart Schools program in 1998 for K-12 educational facilities. EnergySmart Schools helps school officials save money and energy by developing energy-efficient programs. The program is part of DOE’s Rebuild America that promotes energy saving in communities across the nation.
A vast network of community-based partnerships nationwide, Rebuild America is dedicated to:
“You can have the best technologies in the world, but if the market is not ready or people do not understand it, the technology does not get used,” says Sze. Rebuild America, based in Washington, D.C., strives to lower information barriers for the building community so that effective cutting-edge techniques can become everyday practices.
K-12 schools are a high priority for EERE processes and technologies, because of the educational market’s growth. According to the Council of Educational Facility Planners, Scottsdale, AZ, about 50 percent of schools are in need of modernization. The DOE is hoping to promote energy awareness among school children while creating healthier and more productive learning environments.
The EnergySmart Schools program has a two-pronged approach. The program first works with school districts to introduce energy-efficiency improvements to the physical environment. Second, it promotes energy education in schools to encourage future generations to consider renewable energy technologies.
The DOE’s initiative focuses on reducing energy costs, increasing the clean energy usage, providing hands-on energy-efficiency lessons to students, and improving the educational environment. EnergySmart Schools’ partners include non-profit organizations, government agencies, trade associations, business partners, and community groups. The program was created in response to questions from school officials, teachers, and parents.
“We listened to what they wanted and came up with seven high-performance climate specific guidelines for schools,” says Sze. The guidelines were completed last summer and can be downloaded for review. The EnergySmart Schools’ guidelines feature a technical document for the building team and general educational guidelines for laypeople. Many schools are already leveraging their energy savings to pay for much-needed school improvements.
Rebuild America is channeling the growing interest in green design by setting its sights on additional markets, including universities, office buildings, government facilities, and multi-family housing. Adds Sze, “I think colleges and universities are a very powerful potential market because they are at the leading-edge in adopting practices that will translate into how America can live in the future and use green practices.”
For additional information on energy-efficient schools, check out these resources: (www.energysmartschools.gov), (www.rebuild.gov), and EERE’s Clearinghouse at (800) DOE-3732.