Learning Lessons About Our Schools
Our local schools have grown beyond academic institutions, open from 7am – 3pm. They have become social gathering places, weekend worship centers, as well as safe havens for our communities’ children and their families.
While our schools serve as vital hubs for our towns, they must be maintained year round. This includes supplying the mandatory utilities and upgrading where necessary. But are these upgrades meeting the needs of the buildings and the occupants?
Social Studies 101
The National Center for Education Statistics reported that approximately 50 million students attended public elementary and secondary schools in the United States in 2017. And these school districts employed about 3.2 million teachers. Regardless of the location of any of these schools, they required a sufficient level of climate control to promote an effective learning/teaching environment.
Schools in the United States average 42 years old, and in every school, we’ve installed computers. But we’ve never done anything about the buildings except for maybe changing lights. When you add a computer to the classroom you’re essentially adding another body because the internal heat of the computer is equivalent to another body. The overall comfort level for the occupants has been reduced.
Geothermal Heat Pump systems (GHPs) offer a practical solution to improving space conditioning (heating and air conditioning) and water heating to facilities like schools. The technology uses the earth’s thermal properties in conjunction with electricity to provide “comfort’ to the school facility. We can essentially use the “energy under our feet,” the energy we already own, to deliver space conditioning to institutional facilities throughout the United States.
In 2017, expenses for K-12 school buildings and renovations totaled $13 billion. 59.6% was dedicated to new buildings while 40.4% covered renovations. New, or renovations to, heating and air conditioning accounted for 48%, which meant school districts spent billions of dollars installing conventional technology that was invented 50 to 60 years ago in schools that are brand new.
The US DOE states that 36% of all the primary usage of energy in the United States comes from buildings, and 40% of that energy comes from heating and air conditioning and water heating. In order to reduce our carbon footprint, we need to adopt alternative sources for heating and cooling. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) installing the GHP system can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40% over traditional HVAC systems.
GHPs also provide a renewable thermal asset that lasts 50 to 100 years. So, unlike solar, everything is inside or underground. The ground loops maintain a stable temperature and are protected from the elements, supporting the system 24 hours a day, 365 days a year whether the wind blows or the sun shines.
Making the Grade
Even though we pay a lot of attention to upgrading the technology in our schools, we need to recognize the fact that to enable someone to learn, their comfort level is extremely important. GHP technology saves energy and reduces emissions. Plus, it reduces heating and cooling energy costs by 40%. By improving the space conditioning in our schools, we improve comfort levels and increase the ability for students to learn and teachers to teach. Together we can invest in the future.
Jack DiEnna is the Executive Director and Founder of the Geothermal National & International Initiative (GEO-NII). He is a business development and marketing professional with over forty years’ combined experience in the electric utility industry and the renewable energy industry.