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
Unleashing Solar Power, One Community at a Time
To some, the goal might seem lofty – making solar an accessible, affordable, and equitable distributed energy source on a massive scale across the country. Yet, some determined citizens are already engaged in developing community-based renewable energy at the local level, often in isolation, and often facing daunting challenges. As a leader in the community-based solar movement, Community Power Network (CPN) creates on-the-ground change through renewable energy projects and policy reform – one community at a time. A network of grassroots, local, state, and national organizations working to build and promote locally based renewable energy projects and policies, CPN believes that the energy transformation movement is taking root, bringing communities together for collaboration.
By close of 2015, CPN had recruited more than 5,500 solar co-op members, implemented 60 co-ops, and oversaw the installation of more than 1,000 solar systems, resulting in 6 mW of solar power through on-the-ground programs. Additionally, CPN has facilitated $18 million in solar investments, helping to create new jobs.
CPN’s ambitious education outreach builds awareness of distributed solar, amplifies success stories, shares best practices for deploying projects, and grows contagious support for community solar. Analysis and case studies on community solar projects provide citizens with resources on how to create positive change in their own communities. A monthly newsletter covers key issues, tips and tools in the community renewables space and shines a spotlight on innovative projects that can be replicated.
CPN will especially highlight the innovative work in states that have less developed solar markets and policies, including Florida, Ohio, and West Virginia. Most importantly, CPN communications will target all “practitioners” and citizens who have an interest in a future where every community participates in the financial benefits of solar energy diversification.
Photo Credit: Community Power Network
Harnessing the Power of the Sun for the Sciencenter
Everybody Solar, a 501©3, believes that giving the gift of solar energy can help alleviate some of the economic burden borne by nonprofit organizations by significantly reducing electricity costs. By harnessing the growing power of solar energy, Everybody Solar helps nonprofits cut electricity costs so they can focus on what they do best – providing essential services to their in-need communities.
Through the Solar for the Sciencenter project, over 100,000 visitors to the museum in Ithaca, NY will learn how to improve ecological footprints in their communities through renewable energy. This dynamic hands-on gallery – a learning magnet for elementary students and their families — inspires excitement for science through interactive exhibits and programs that engage, educate, and empower. Another 1.5 million guests worldwide will also experience how technology harnesses energy from the sun thanks to traveling exhibitions and outreach programs.
The Solar for the Sciencenter project is expected to produce 177,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, and avert 150,000 pounds of C02 from entering the atmosphere over the first 10 years of its 25 year expected life. In the process, the Sciencenter will save over $1,700 per year on utility costs. That real-time reduction in the Sciencenter’s overhead costs will enable them to grow their free access programs which provide free memberships for low-income families.
The transformative experience, at the Sciencenter and in other deserving communities that Everybody Solar supports, inspires others to help make communities more sustainable. As Everybody Solar attests, everybody has a right to affordable energy and clean air.
Photo Credit: Jon Reis Photography/Gary Hodges
Solarizing Communities in Need
Founded during the 2001 California energy crisis, GRID Alternatives was created by two engineering professionals who were implementing large-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for the private sector. The vision was simple: Free, clean electricity from the sun should be available to everyone.
Through GRID Alternatives, they developed a model to make solar photovoltaic technology practical and accessible for low-income communities, which need the savings and jobs the most, yet have the least access. They approached solar not just as an environmental good, but also a real-world solution to a pressing economic problem in communities.
Since 2004, their flagship Solar Affordable Housing Program has trained and led teams of volunteers and job trainees to install solar electric systems for low-income families throughout California and in Colorado — where APNF directly funds — since 2012.
To date, GRID Alternatives has already helped the Colorado community alone with 60 system installs and an estimated lifetime savings of $1,238.106 in reduced electricity bills while sparing the air an estimated 7,293 tons in greenhouse gas emission.
Through what the organization calls a “barn raising” model, GRID Alternatives brings together whole communities to make change and pay it forward, not only in their backyards, but also for their neighbors in need. The results are impressive with each project generating a clear triple bottom-line: long-term savings for families that need solar most to pay for basic expenses; hands-on work experiences for those looking to get jobs in the growing solar industry; and long-term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. A win-win-win.
“Innovative, proven and replicable solutions” are among the accolades showered on this program, which has been recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Hero Award and recently by the White House Champions of Change.
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