Students across the U.S. are reporting impressive energy savings on their school campuses during the third week of meter readings for the 2012 national Green Cup Challenge® (GCC), with some schools reporting cuts as high as 17%.
"This is extremely positive news for America, which makes up just 5% of the world's population but consumes 24% of the world's energy," says Peg Watson, Founder and President of the Green Schools Alliance (GSA). The GSA sponsors the GCC, which is now in its fifth year; 116 GCC schools in 22 states are competing to reduce their electricity consumption during peak winter energy usage, January 18 to February 15.
Preventable energy waste costs Americans hundreds of billions of dollars a year and studies have shown that most Americans continue to live in denial about their energy consumption. But students are turning that around.
"From California to Florida, students and school campuses are modeling technologies and behaviors that save energy, money and the environment during the GCC and beyond," says GCC Program Director Katy Perry.
Energy-saving strategies range from the simple and low-tech to the high-tech.
The Latin School of Chicago has seen an 8.2% reduction in its energy consumption so far. The independent K-12 school has quietly made big investments in renewable energy and campus-wide efficiencies that are paying off in many ways, thanks in large part to Peter Brown, the school's Director of Facilities and Operations.
"We're seeing a savings of around $45,000 per year for our campus," says Brown, who last year installed solar PV panels on Latin's Middle School building, along with a new bird friendly wind turbine and a solar hot water heating system. The Upper School's roof went solar in 2009. All lights in the Middle School were retrofitted with motion sensors and dimmable ballasts. AV management software shuts down systems at night, and environmental monitoring software tracks and promotes awareness about sustainability.
With the annual cost savings, Brown expects to see a return on Latin's investments in about ten years; but their value is not just economic. A public website page is tracking how many pounds of carbon dioxide the school has kept out of the atmosphere by using solar energy, and the educational opportunities surrounding these choices are infinite.
"By making ethical decisions about how we use energy throughout our facilities, we can use our campus as a classroom for our students," says Brown.
Indeed, Latin's two green roofs -- atop the Middle School (5,500 sq. ft.) and the Upper School (1,200 sq. ft.) -- have become virtual science and engineering laboratories. On a hot day, using infrared thermometers, students have observed that the temperature on a traditional roof is often 30 degrees Fahrenheit higher than a green roof. "This is a great opportunity for students to see how a green roof can help reduce cooling costs," says Brown.
Saint Paul's, an independent Pre-K - 8 school in Clearwater, Florida has been using air conditioning (A/C) instead of heat this winter, due to unusually warm temperatures. But it has nonetheless managed to reduce its electricity consumption by 17% during the GCC. A/Cs have been set at 74° F, up from 72° F. Since the last GCC, Dean Ledee, Saint Paul's Director of Facilities and a member of the staff Green Team, says he has replaced up to six old A/C units with more efficient Energy Star models. And as exterior lights blew out, he replaced them with LEDs. "Despite the recent 3% electricity rate increase, we haven't felt it," says Ledee, who gives credit to the teachers and students for being conscious about their electricity use.
"We've really focused on turning lights off when we leave a room, setting our computers to sleep mode, and using the GCC as an opportunity for people to focus on their habits," says Karen Zilhaver, Technology instructor and Green Team member. Zilhaver says that, over the years, Saint Pauls's staff has educated students about why it's important to save energy, and resources more generally. "It serves them well at school and in the world to be good environmental stewards."
At the New Roads School in Santa Monica, California, students and staff also achieved reductions of 17%. "We brought natural light into the computer classroom by cutting a big skylight into a false ceiling and we haven't turned the lights on in the room since," says Tyrone Sandaal, the High School's Co-Director. Sandaal said students and staff have been going room by room controlling thermostats, shutting off computer monitors, space heaters, and lamps. They installed special plates on light switches outside of seven modular buildings to prevent lights from being turned on unnecessarily during the day, and put night lights on timers.
"What we found going into the GCC is that we were very effective in our campaign last year, so it was much easier for us to do what we needed to do this year. It's about creating habits." In the future, Sandaal hopes to create a GCC home version. "Parents and families would compete with each other to create percentage reductions at home, and report the results in school," he says.
With just one week to go for the national GCC and popular GCC video contest (both end on February 15th) schools are scrambling for last-minute reductions and the coveted first place, posting web and Twitter updates along the way.
"National winners will be announced in a couple of weeks, though all GCC schools are winners in our book," says Perry.
Follow Veronique Pittman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vchoa