Building Brighter Futures Through Zero Energy: Discovery Elementary School


We’ve been in Arlington since 2008. I have two children, and one is in 1st grade
here. And then one is in kindergarten. It’s a 26-square mile community and it’s a
mixture of suburban and very urban. We have a school system that is growing rapidly
from year to year – almost a thousand students a year. The school is built around this idea of sustainability. So we do a lot to instill in our students
the idea of greenness and what we can do to help the environment. We had the goal that it would become an example
of how to integrate learning and teaching with environmental stewardship. We wanted to do that to a level that we hadn’t
seen before. There’s a great deal of transparency inside
the school. The classrooms are not closed off from the rest
of the school. When the school district said “Yes, we’re
going to build a school,” they hired an architectural firm that said “Hey, we can
do this and make it net zero energy.” And that really fit into Arlington’s ideals
and so they said, “Yeah. Let’s do it.” A zero energy school is a school that during
a course of a calendar year will produce at least as much energy as it consumes. We’ve got about $100,000 a year in cost avoidance. So we have saved a great deal. Our task, when we set out to do this — the
school system, the architects, and the educators — was to really push the boundaries and set
a new standard and demonstrate what can truly be achieved on a public school budget. When we talk about being environmentally friendly
and forward thinking, we are building buildings for our students of the future, not of the past. People didn’t believe it. They didn’t think that this could really happen. But here we are and now we’re finding it’s
a net positive. I think part of the job of a good architect
is to be a bit of a provocateur. Net zero was a really great framework for doing that. Once we got agreement on it we had to look at everything – From how food was
prepared, to how the IT system worked, to how the building was scheduled – and say, “How can we make little tweaks to save a little bit of energy?” The really important thing is the need for the design team to be integrated. They put together a team that was experienced
and could do could do this for us. So what that means is you reduce the energy-use intensity of the school as low as you can So that when you add renewable sources
– in this case solar – you’re adding a reasonable amount. So building orientation and massing is where
we start. We looked at different shapes, different sizes,
different orientations. We looked at every decision in terms of how
much more or less renewable energy do you have to buy to offset that decision. The second step then is the envelope and an
obsessive focus on an air sealing and making sure that it’s tight. Once we set off down the path of zero energy, we really kind of took up the idea that we should celebrate light in every way possible
in the school. There are some things that are absolutely
essential that we see them in just about every zero energy school, at least in this climate
zone. Using LED lights throughout greatly reduces the cooing loads. The other big thing is the geothermal field, which reduces energy consumption dramatically. So, geothermal systems are fairly common. But, instead of going to a large central unit, it’s a distributed system. So, there’re all these small, almost residential-size units throughout the building, so, we can really turn this building on and
off to a very fine degree. The conditioned air system is always providing
fresh air at all times. A big thing about zero energy is that it really
creates culture change among all the stakeholders. It really does focus the whole school community
on sustainability in a way that I was just not prepared for. So the kids are absolutely on it. Our vision at Discovery is to create innovators of technology with an interest in our world and making an impact. So the building is a teaching tool. We learned about how solar panels work and
how much energy they produce. In art class, we made sculptures out of recycled
materials. We were helping the ecosystem by recycling
these water bottles and we were providing decoration for our school. We did a project that taught the first graders how to recycle. What goes where, and why this really matters. Can you please do this! And then they listened! I didn’t realize that you needed that many
solar panels to power this school. It makes you realize how much energy you actually
use. As a parent, it’s amazing that my kids get
to experience technology that’s on the forefront in their classroom every day. We’ll have research projects that are completely
centered around the different components of the school from the geothermal wells to the
solar hot water generation for the cafeteria. So it makes things more authentic for students. We did a project on the energy dashboard. We were looking about how to save more energy
in the school because we had some pretty good ideas. This is an opportunity for us to talk about
science, technology, engineering, math, arts and tie them into a commitment to build buildings
and to philosophies that are environmentally sustainable over a long period of time. The nature of this building and the concept
of net zero — what a better place than a school because you’re so impactful anyway
you’re educating students… that’s the most important thing! The life-cycle costs of a zero-energy school
are a great deal less than others. They’re reducing the fixed costs of the
school district. They’re also controlling costs because we’re
generating the energy. It’s not subject to cost increases and that appeals to school boards because it’s fiscal responsibility. If you’re looking at the big picture, your
ongoing expenses, which come out of property taxes, they’re there forever. Zero energy allows us to leverage that one-time debt event and translate it into savings that go on and on and on. Long-term, the return on investment is what we’re looking to capture. This underlines our commitment to making the
planet sustainable for our young people in school today and their children after them. The amount of savings this school saw in the
first year is the salary for two teachers. That’s a big deal. It’s sort of beacon to the community. Look, this can be done… That our kids are benefitting from it. That this is possible… we can we can do it. And look at the difference it makes. It’s the greatest opportunity I’ve ever been
given. It’s amazing to be able to share this with
other people. We get visitors from all over the world. Everywhere is a teachable moment. That’s what makes it such an exciting
place to work. It’s inspiring everywhere. If you’re looking to do something a little
different and put something on the face of the earth that’s going to make a difference… Then, uh, make it count. At my old school, we didn’t have anything close
to this I think it’s just so cool to be a part of this. By coming to school I’m helping the environment
and learning new things and I’m excited. There is no reason that we can’t use public
school construction anywhere in this country to advance zero energy. Cost certainly is not, not the reason.

4 thoughts on “Building Brighter Futures Through Zero Energy: Discovery Elementary School”

  1. "Net-Zero Energy Buildings" is a classic Straw Man. Virtually ZERO meaning and ZERO relevance. Yeah, so you take an Energy Efficient home – very nice – add a bunch of Solar Panels and subtract Energy Usage of the Home from the Energy supplied to the Grid. Brilliant. How about a building with a Wind Turbine? How about a building with a Wind Turbine 100 yds away? Or one with a big mother Wind Turbine on the property producing 100x the total energy consumed by the home & barn & outhouse all constructed with 2×4 walls and zero insulation – are they now "net energy zero" homes. A net energy zero outhouse? How about someone who owns a small hydro plant supplying 10X the energy their home(s) consume – do they get to declare my home is "net-zero energy"? Why can't I get to declare my home "net-zero energy" because I supply clean, green energy to the Grid, working at a Hydro plant?

    And is that Net-zero Energy on a cold year with little sunshine? Or just on a good warm year with lot's of sun? And if I buy shares in a Nuclear Power plant that produces clean, green energy year round, more than my home consumes do I get to declare my home is "net-energy zero".

    "Net-energy zero" – another NUTTY Greenie catchphrase that in reality is just an embellishment to hide the INCREDIBLY bad economics of Solar Power. I've repeatedly shown how bad the economics of Solar power are, so new Greenie idea, just combine it with building efficiency in a hope to bury the terrible economics. A huge subsidy for the rich to buy expensive homes while the poor & middle class can't even afford a shack to live in.

    How about instead use that subsidy money for a good, basic home for the poor and middle class, with good insulation – like R18, instead of R12, a very tight envelope, double pane windows with southern exposure (in the north), heat exchanger on furnace and air exchange, maybe-maybe Solar Hot water in a good location, and minimum cost construction. Screw the wacky, hyper-expensive Solar Power SCAM & Super-duper extreme Energy Efficiency. What is the marginal cost of Hyper-Super-Duper Energy Efficiency vs just a good basic level of Energy Efficiency? $10k-$40k/kwth avg heat energy savings, I bet. When Nuclear Energy is $0.7 to $2k per kwth avg heat energy. Get 5-60X the Energy Savings by just installing Nuclear Power plants.

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