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The Sun Rises on Green Schools

Fall foliage is peaking up north as the leafy rainbow begins to extend its way south. I went to college in New England, and there is nothing more picturesque than rowing on the Connecticut River when the leaves are in full glory. For almost half our lives, fall is about school, so in honor of the season and this most important class of buildings, I dedicate today's column.

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the basic green school statistics: Over 120,000 K-12 schools and several thousand more colleges and universities every day contain approximately one quarter of the U.S. population at any one time. Add the parents of said students and education professionals, and we're talking almost half the country dealing with schools somehow on a daily basis.

In addition, education has been the largest sector in the non-residential construction for the last decade, representing almost a quarter of all building-related construction, averaging over $85 billion of value put in place. Green schools are more than just efficient buildings; they are incubators for tomorrow's green leaders, which have been readily demonstrated at model green schools such as the Willow School in New Jersey (pictured above) and Washington DC's Sidwell Friends school.

With results like these, no wonder everyone is falling over themselves to green these facilities. For example, the U.S. Green Building Council has launched the Center for Green Schools, continuing its multifaceted National Green Schools Campaign. Schools registered in or certified by the LEED system represent over 200 million square feet of floor area. LEED schools use 30 percent less energy and water on average and reduce operating costs by nearly $100,000 per year. United Technologies is the founding sponsor of the center, which will provide a wide range of tools to school stakeholders in support of the transformation of schools to green.

At the Clinton Global Initiative two weeks ago, the National Wildlife Federation and green schools pioneer Jayni Chase and Serious Materials committed to the Energy Efficient Schools Initiative, a partnership to use science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum to lower barriers to retrofitting of 500 schools across the country over the next two years. Also on the hardware front, ZETA Communities is bringing its net zero energy precision-built expertise to educational facilities, the first one of which is a 4,000 square foot project for the Davis Waldorf School in California's Central Valley.

Farther south, PsomasFMG and Rosendin Electric have started construction on one of the country's largest school photovoltaic installations, a total of 9.6 MW in carport installations for the Antelope Valley Union High School District that will provide 80 percent of the district's energy needs and also reduce a large urban heat island by shading 4,000 parking spaces. And like the NWF/Serious Materials initiative, the Antelope Valley project will be used as a basis for a green STEM curriculum module.

Maybe this can be incorporated somehow into Second Nature's initiative, Green Campus Builder, which has just published a new online curriculum resource for teaching college students about Sustainable Building. Second Nature also should check out the new book by Vijaya Yellamraju, "LEED New Construction Project Management," an excerpt of which is featured this week.

All of this hands-on green school experience and improved STEM curricula are coming none too soon: Many of the hottest green jobs are in renewable energy and energy efficiency according to "Clean Tech Job Trends 2010," a new study released by Clean Edge, a research and publishing company dedicated to the cleantech sector. Since California is one of the hotbeds of cleantech industry and development, let's hope AB 32's evil twin, Proposition 23, "The Dirty Air Act," goes down to a well-deserved defeat in November.

Schools are not the only buildings getting into the building integrated solar act. This week, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced that new photovoltaic panels above the White House living quarters were going to be added to the 9 KW PV and solar hot water systems installed by President Bush almost 10 years ago.  The roof of the living quarters could accommodate up to 15KW of capacity, which is expected to generate nearly 20,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year -- almost two average U.S. households' worth.

This week's Look-Grandpa-I-picked-up-the-$20-bill-you said-was-fake-but-it's-real! award goes to General Electric for its ecomagination Challenge, which scales up and virtualizes the idea of $20-bills on the ground. The concept behind the ecomagination Challenge is that there are millions of ideas lying on the ground waiting to be picked up by investment and technology firms, if they only could be identified, clarified and launched. Four Silicon Valley venture firms, Emerald Technology Ventures, Foundation Capital, KPCB and Rockport Capital Partners, are joining with GE to invest $200 million in the winning ideas. Spending 1/100th of that to vanquish Prop. 23 also sounds like a good investment to me.

Rob Watson is the executive editor of You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Kilrwat.

Image of the independent Willow School in Gladstone, N.J., which in 2003 earned the first LEED-Gold certification awarded to a school in the state. Then it attained a LEED-Platinum certification for a new building in 2007. Photo courtesy of the Willow School via

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