Getting Schooled in Energy Conservation and Solar
It’s not your typical day in the classrooms along Colorado’s Front Range – students are actively involved in analyzing and reducing their school’s electricity usage through participation in the ReNew Our Schools Youth Engagement Program. Students and teachers can view electricity data from eGauge energy monitors, which provides instant feedback from any change they make to their school’s energy usage, such as turning off lights or unplugging computers.
This cultural shift in Colorado’s schools demonstrates that cost savings, energy efficiency, and environmental protection are all possible through intentional energy-saving actions. In the latest ReNew Our Schools program – schools in Colorado’s Douglas County School District — located in one of the fastest growing counties in the country, are competing to see who can lower their energy footprint the most. The top performing schools win a solar array or solar charging station.
Students collaborate with community professionals who mentor these “energy superheroes.” Students sleuth ways to save energy at school and at home. Past competitions have averaged a 16% energy savings with some schools saving as much as 30%. Schools are provided curriculum and solar kits from Need.org to ensure that solar and energy education is not just a one-month lesson but a lifelong way of energy-conscious living. Additionally, the process brings new learnings to teachers and students, who see their efforts in this STEM-based education initiative turn into dramatic cost savings for schools.
The ReNew Our Schools’ energy competition has empowered thousands of K-12 students to become energy stewards who prioritize conservation for years to come.
Photo Credit: Eli Akerstein, Center for ReSource Conservation
Solar for the Eugene Science Center
Everybody Solar, a 501(c)3, believes that giving the gift of solar energy can help alleviate some of the economic burdens borne by nonprofit organizations by significantly reducing electricity costs while simultaneously reducing their environmental impact. By harnessing the growing power of solar energy, Everybody Solar helps nonprofits cut electricity costs so they can focus on what they do best – provide essential services to their communities.
Through the Solar for the Eugene Science Center (ESC) project, over 36,000 visitors will learn about solar while exploring their new interactive solar exhibit and solar array. Formerly known as the Science Factory, and under new leadership, the ESC has great ambitions to upgrade their facilities and bring new exhibits and program spaces through a new initiative. At the center of this effort is the new hands-on solar exhibit, and also a state-of-the-art 32.5 kW photovoltaic system. The solar array will improve the ESC’s carbon footprint by producing an estimated 380,000 kWh of electricity, averting over 625,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere over the next 10 years. The electricity cost savings can then be diverted to their discounted access programs, educational exhibits, participatory activities, and planetarium shows.
The transformative experience at the Eugene Science Center inspires others to help make communities more sustainable. As Everybody Solar attests, everybody has a right to affordable energy and clean air.
Photo Credit: Eugene Science Center
Bringing Solar Power and Solar Job Training Home to Rosebud Sioux Nation
Winters can be severe on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in Todd County, SD, with icy winds and temperatures regularly in the teens. These harsh conditions combined with aging, inefficient homes and heating systems drive up the cost of electric utility bills for the majority of Tribal members and the Tribe itself, exacerbating the economic struggles faced on a daily basis on the Reservation.
In its efforts to improve the standard of living for Tribal members, the Rosebud Tribal Utility Commission and the Housing Authority are looking at investing in renewable energy, and solar PV in particular, to bring down long-term electricity costs. The effort will save the community millions of dollars and help the Tribe realize its goal of gaining more control of its energy expenditures
With support from All Points North Foundation, the tribe is partnering with GRID Alternatives, the nation’s largest nonprofit solar installer to install solar electric systems for low-income tribal families, targeting the highest need first. In the process, GRID is providing “classroom on the roof” training to tribal members interested in hands-on skills building in solar PV and increasing their employment opportunities in the growing solar jobs market.
This “triple bottom line” model of “People. Planet. Employment” is part of GRID’s larger effort to bring solar PV to scale on tribal lands throughout the United States through innovative partnerships. To date, communities in seven states have established solar PV as a sustainable economic development strategy for their tribes. And, GRID is confident that the Rosebud Sioux Tribe will set a precedent to becoming a scalable and sustainable model of solar for all of its homes.
Since its founding in 2001, GRID has stayed true to its simple vision not just for tribal lands but the nation’s underserved communities: free, clean electricity from the sun should be available to everyone.
Photo Credit: Grid Alternatives
Inspiring Sustainability, Conservation, and Education
Tucked away at the end of a five-mile wilderness trek through the Blue Ridge Mountains stands Georgia’s only backcountry lodge, Len Foote Hike Inn. Showcasing green building techniques in a unique backcountry setting, Hike Inn leverages the Inn’s sustainable design and practices as a living teaching tool to guests and communities alike.
Geographically ideal for alternative energy, Georgia’s solar energy is a vastly underutilized resource with much of the population not exposed to its benefits. Thus, the Hike Inn, the first to earn the coveted Gold LEED-EB certification in the southeastern United States, promotes awareness, knowledge, and support of the benefits of solar energy with intention.
Providing a unique educational experience, the Hike Inn promotes physical health, environmental awareness and stewardship, and hands on application of sustainability. From a small photovoltaic system and passive solar thermal water systems to the composting of food waste and recycling for waste diversion, the Hike Inn leads the way in sustainable operations for Georgia State Park facilities.
As a unique learning resource center, it continues to inspire environmental stewardship with its latest project, Above the Grid. This energy literacy project includes both installing a new photovoltaic solar system to increase solar electric power and improve sustainability operations, and promoting solar technology innovation through education outreach targeted to adults and youth. In 2017, the Hike Inn will install a new 53.72 kWh system, providing up to 69% of their electric energy needs from solar power, and promoting solar energy education and awareness in the process.
Photo Credit: Len Foote Hike Inn