The installation of the Rocky Mountain State’s first solar-powered bike port has Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) administrators gearing up for what could be the first LEED-certified* campus in the district’s 50-yearhistory. Instead of going for energy gold, they’re pursuing LEED Platinum certification, the U.S. Green Building Association’s pinnacle standard for high-performing structures whose sustainable practices optimize human and environmental health.
Like the leading-edge sustainability strategyBoulder Valley is implementing for its 28,500 students, the 26.78 kW solar bike port -- installed as part of CaseyMiddle School’s transformation intoa 110,000 square-foot energy efficiency icon -- offers a pay-off well beyondits primary purpose.
Sure, the solar bike port protects students and their bicycles from the elements. And by its very nature it supports a viable transportation alternative for students concerned about the carbon emitted by fossil-fuel guzzling vehicles. But it’s also an electricity-generating clean energy system that will provide BVSD administrators with a welcome 38,810 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year.
“We wanted this PV** system to be ahigh-profiled part of the overall building design that served multiple purposes,” explained Boulder Valley School District Project Manager Lou Novak.He says the solar bike port’s location was chosen for solar access and its proximity to the optimal student bike parking location, where the solar panels would also help shade south-facing windows.
“We positioned the array in front of theschool’s preserved 1924 building façade to symbolize not only a commitment to Casey’s rich history, but our entire community’s awareness of the importance ofusing renewable energy sources,” Novak said. “It also reflects the need to be personally accountable by acting as good environmental stewards.”
Personal accountability – and perhaps a bit ofpeer pressure – are ensuring the bike port is full to capacity. The bike port comes with a system monitor attached to a kiosk where kids can learn the green aspects of biking to school. Students can also determine who among them actually did so via sensors that are attached to students’ backpacks.
“This bike port is more than an energy generator,” laughs Steve Bauhs, Director of Marketing and Sales for solar bike port installer Simple Solar. “It’s an educational tool and lifestyle conscience.”
Systems like the solar bike port not only lower a school’s monthly electricity bills, they help public agencies (or their funding agents) reap the benefits of local, state and federal renewable energy incentive programs.
According to Novak, BVSD has already collected $49,275 in the form of a $2.25 per wattrebate from local utility Xcel Energy. And the project will reap anestimated $70,680 in Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) over the course of the next 20 years. REC payments depend on the actual number of kWh produced and theREC rate commitments of Xcel Energy.
But the value of this simple solar solution treads beyond traditional economic incentives.
“The design and location of Casey’s solar bikeport also allow administrators to enjoy a phenomenon known as shadow voltaics,which shields Casey’s south-facing office windows from the glaring sun,optimizing electricity production while reducing the school’s energy consumption,”noted Simple Solar founder and CTO Joe Callahan.
Callahan says the Simple Solar team added their own dimension to the solar bike port’s utility by employing SANYO’s versatile HITPower® Double bifacial modules for the project. SANYO’s translucent HIT Power Doubles are designed to collectlight from the top and bottom of panel surfaces, generating up to130% more power per square foot.
Simple Solar has designed and installed solarPV solutions for seven schools -- five of them in the Boulder Valley School District. “Every one of the solar systems we’ve installed for localschools has been unique and interesting,” said Callahan, whose company has beenserving the front range for over 12 years.
“The solar bike port is particularly so inthat it’s a functional, energy–saving structure that looks fantastic! You can tell the panels are HIT Doubles because you can see right through them. When the sun is shining, you really get a full appreciation of the aesthetics of this array,” he said.
Upon commissioning, Callahan says SANYO’s HITPower Doubles were producing at 125% of their certified power ratings. “More energy output per dollar invested is a quick way to earn extra credit with any solar customer!” he exclaimed.
What’s getting students, teachers, parents and administrators collectivelyenergized about Casey Middle School’s solar bike port is its viability as across-curricular, cross-generational teaching tool.
“There’s a big educational component to almostevery installation we do for a school,” said Callahan, “We work hard to ensure that any school is not just leaving the panels on the roof to passively generate electricity, but that they’re producing something more – like we see here at Casey Middle School.”
“We get the students involved, discuss why solar is installed, how it works and what the benefits are so they can be aware of where our energy comes from, how to use it wisely and how we can harness the alternatives nature provides – resources like wind, sun, hydro and waves, currents and tides – to get that energy for free!” Callahan continued.
Callahan thinks solar economics could have arole in any solar-powered school’s educational curriculum. “The monitoring system provides great opportunities to initiate exercises using real-life and real-time data,” he suggests. “Students can translate production of kilowatt hours into how many dollars they’re making (or saving) for the school.”
“Kids are optimistic about the future, so quick. They get really excited about this technology. It’s something they all should have the opportunity to work with,” he concluded.
That philosophy reinforces what Boulder Valley School District – whose students areamong the highest performing in the US – has established for Casey Middle School.
“Casey Middle School is a dynamic and exciting learning community that works to engagestudents, parents, and faculty from an array of cultures. Our students arechallenged to thrive academically via rigorous programs that are relevant,hands-on and future-oriented,” said Casey Middle School Principal Alison Boggs.
Casey Middle School’s solar bike port – the largest solar photovoltaic (PV)installation in the district -- offers students, teachers, administrators (evenparents) ample opportunity to learn about energy history, production andconsumption, economics, photovoltaic technology, weather patterns, America’sreliance on imported fossil fuels and how sustainable living can drive more prudent use of our energy resources and create healthier, cleaner, more prosperous communities -- for generations to come.
“We at Simple Solar are of like mind with theBoulder Valley School District. Today’s kids are brilliant – and theyhave potential to become teachers by taking these messages home, where they mayget their parents thinking about acting themselves – at home or their place ofbusiness. We subscribe to this kind of hands-on educational curriculum because we know children are our future,” said Simple Solar’s Bauhs. “It’s notjust a phrase or a song lyric. It’s the truth.”
“Boulder Valley School District is looking into all of its options for reducing itsenvironmental impact, from healthier learning environments to how we areeducating students. We are continually looking for opportunities toexpand renewables with an emphasis on the educational value of these systems,” saidBoulder Valley School District Sustainability Coordinator Ghita Carroll, Ph.D.Carroll was hired in 2008 to implement a comprehensive sustainability strategy for the district and has been hard at work ever since.
Inside the school, slanted ceilings, large,dual-paned, energy efficient windows and 134 sola-tubes maximize the building’s passive solar capabilities. Classroom lights automatically adjustto changing ambient light patterns. Casey’s new structure is 20% largerthan the original school, yet it’s reduced its energy consumption by a whopping 54%.
Carroll says since the solar bike port’s October 2010 installation, students have shownan increased awareness of solar power and energy production, and are enjoyinglearning how their school’s green features help lower their environmental footprint. And the enthusiasm is expanding beyond the student body toembrace teachers, parents and professionals from other schools – both within and outside of Boulder Valley.
The efficiencies and energy management systemsintroduced at Casey Middle School – from geothermal heating and cooling systemto the new solar bike port – are affording the entire Boulder community theopportunity to see how their choices can have a positive or negative impact ontoday’s environment that affects future generations.
What’s more, Casey Middle School’s entire energy conservation strategy will save BVSD administrators a whopping $127,454in annual utility costs over the life of the system – and that’s without accounting for rising energy prices. That’s a verified payback of only3.3 years from when the newly-renovated school opened for business.
The entire scope of the campus’s live energy and water data can be viewed online at http://casey.bvsd.greentouchscreen.com/. Students and thepublic-at-large can view the solar bike port’s energy production at http://bvsdcasey.d.egauge.net.
“There is a constant stream of officials from within and outside the district inquiring about all of the green features at Casey. We areoffering tours of the school and answering questions from interested individuals on a regular basis,” said Carroll. “We want to show them howeven the simplest solutions can have a profound impact.”
Any day now, the BVSD team is poised to hear that the brilliant green features of their energy-smart Casey Middle School have struck inspirational gold.They’re hoping that gold translates into LEED Platinum.
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* LEED-certifiedrepresents projects with accreditation in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
** PV stands for photovoltaic, theAmerican-made technology that transforms the sun’slight into electricity.
BONUS MATERIAL: Funding
The axle in the wheel of Boulder Valley’s success is the tremendous amount ofcommunity support it receives. In 2006, voters approved a tax increase ofnearly $300 million for capital improvements to ensure its students can learning stimulating, efficiently-designed environments that will make themcompetitive well into the 21st Century.
“We understand that many schools do not have alot of money to embark upon projects like this, but there are a lot of creative ways to make solar work,” said Simple Solar’s Director of Marketing and SalesSteve Bauhs, whose company has installed solar solutions on seven schoolcampuses.
“Our clients have initiated all kinds of innovative ways to fund their solar solutions.Sometimes, students are out raising funds. Smart school administratorsleverage local and state grants or take advantage of PPAs and other creative financing tools,” Bauhs explained. They also solicit private grants fromphilanthropists and donations from solar companies.
“This region’s elected officials have been very supportive of renewable energy solutions. Theyunderstand the economic benefits to home owners, schools and businesses, thejob creating benefits to contractors and installers – and, of course, the environmental benefits to preserve the air and water quality of our majesticstate,” said Simple Solar Co-Founder and CTO Joe Callahan.
Among the programs officials have rolled out to constituencies are the Boulder Renewable Energyand Energy Efficiency Grants (BREEE), Boulder’s ClimateSmart Solar GrantProgram, a Solar Sales & Use Tax Incentive, Boulder County’s EnergySmart EnergyEfficiency Loan Program and its complement, the EnergySmart Residential EnergyEfficiency Rebate Program.
“There’s a rule of thumb that for every $1 spent on energy efficiency, $3 to $5 can be saved onthe cost of a renewable energy solution,” noted Bauhs.
There are also incentives offered by the Governor’s office and the State of Colorado, among them the New Energy Economic Development Grant Program. The US Department of Energy’s Database for StateIncentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE), offers a comprehensive Web siteidentifying available solar incentives at the state, local and federallevels. Find incentives for all 50 states at http://www.dsireusa.org/.
“We have a variety of ways to make solarhappen in Colorado,” Callahan added. “You factor in creative financing solutions like PPAs and instruments like that, and it’s definitely doable. It just takes a little creativity and thought -- and finding theright solar partner -- to make it all work.”
Creativity and thought. Now that’s something progressive school districts like Boulder Valley have in abundance! And with annual energy savings of $127,454 – and graduates who consistently score well above the state and national averages on ACT and SAT college entranceexams -- Boulder Valley School District’s got the numbers to prove it.