It’s created a buzz throughout the country, and now a local elementary school is one step closer to becoming the first net-zero school in the nation.
Workers began installing solar panels Wednesday on the roof of the new Richardsville Elementary School. The 77,000-square-foot, $12.6 million building will produce more energy than it consumes.
It will use geothermal piping to eliminate the need for furnaces and boilers. The walls are heavily insulated with concrete that gives the school triple the insulation of other buildings.
Even the floors are stained and polished - which reduces the effort required to buff and clean the surfaces - and energy-efficient bamboo was used to create the gym flooring.
But one of the biggest boons to the school’s net-zero status is the solar panels. Solar panels use sunlight to generate power, keeping the building running with natural energy.
When it’s sunny outside, solar panels will use sunlight to completely energize the school. If it’s cloudy or rainy, the school can pull power from the electrical grid system, said Brad Morton, owner of Morton Solar and Wind, which is teaming with Advanced Electrical Systems on the project.
The $2.4 million solar panel project, which was partly funded through a state grant, will help the school use 75 percent less energy than other schools.
About 2,000 solar panels will be installed on the school roof, and 700 more panels will be placed on the school’s parking structure, which will be built at the site of the old Richardsville school after it’s demolished.
But the project will not only benefit the school. The Tennessee Valley Authority will purchase unused solar energy from the school - at about 22 cents per kilowatt hour - and use it to energize surrounding homes and businesses. On a sunny day, the panels can create about 2,500 kilowatt hours of energy, and it probably can energize about 50 homes in the area, Morton said.
“This is going to be a power plant for Richardsville,” he said.
In addition to cutting utility costs and bringing the school system to the forefront of green technology, the solar panels serve as a teaching tool to students. One hallway features an exposed solar panel, where students can see how much energy the panels are producing.
“I think it helps with utility costs, but I think the most beneficial (aspect) … is teaching the kids to be environmentally friendly,” Superintendent Tim Murley said.
The process has also taught administrators some lessons about energy-efficiency.
“I’ve learned a lot through this,” Murley said.
Solar panels are gaining popularity. Morton, whose company is based in Evansville, Ind., has installed panels at three or four schools and a few libraries. But the Richardsville job is by far his biggest project to date, he said.
Morton, who once lived in Bowling Green, took a special interest in the local project because his wife attended Richardsville Elementary School. In fact, Morton got married at a small church in the community.
“Not only did (the project) meet our qualifications, it has sentimental value as well,” he said.
As workers secure solar panels to the roof, more workers are busy inside. The school’s opening has been delayed, and school officials are waiting for a temporary certificate of occupancy from the state to begin moving into the new building.
“We want this school to be very, very complete when we move in it. We’d like construction (crews) to basically be gone when we move in this building,” Murley said. “My hope is it’s soon.”