February 20, 2002 2 min read

Energy-Smart Schools

Schools in the hot, dry climate of the Southwest would be more energy efficient if they increased their use of natural lighting and tapped into solar energy, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Read " Energy Design Guidelines for High-Performing Schools”, from the Department of Energy’s Energy Smart Schools. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

The guide was released, appropriately, in Las Vegas at a conference this month that was sponsored by the Council of Educational Facilities Planners International, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based trade group. The guide, in part, is a response to the rising energy costs and temporary power outages, or brownouts, that have wreaked havoc on some districts’ budgets and schedules in recent years.

“Our goal is to help schools reduce operating costs and improve the learning environment, while making the schools themselves a hands-on lesson about energy efficiency,” said David Garman, the federal department’s assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, in announcing the report on Feb. 8.

Mr. Garman visited two new elementary schools in Las Vegas to publicize his agency’s goals. The 245,000-student Clark County district is one of the fastest growing in the nation, and has built dozens of new schools in recent years.

The report advises districts on how to set realistic energy budgets, use new energy-saving technologies, conserve water, choose sites that are least destructive to the environment, and use renewable resources.

For instance, “emerging solutions,” such as solar-absorption cooling, biodiesel fuel, and fuel cells, are not yet well-known, but are available and can help cut transportation costs, according to the report. It also has advice for improving academic achievement through proper lighting and better air quality in classrooms.

Building schools to take advantage of daylight, instead of electric lighting, can help twofold in cutting costs, the report says. Because daylight produces less heat than electric bulbs do, districts save on lighting and air-conditioning costs—expenses that can consume up to half of a school’s energy costs in the hot, Southwestern climates.

The report also lists resources and examples of schools that have integrated environmentally smart designs. One of those facilities, Ann Ott Elementary in Phoenix, was built partially underground, to decrease noise from the nearby airport and provide more energy efficiency.

—Joetta L. Sack

A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2002 edition of Education Week