First Net-Zero Energy Public School Set to Open This Year

With more people becoming aware of their actual impact on the environment, we have begun to see major strides being taken by individuals, businesses, buildings and even governments to lower their environmental footprint. One of the ways to do that is net-zero energy buildings.

It’s not just about “going green” or getting LEED certification anymore (although I’d recommend both). These days, people want to get their homes and businesses completely off the grid. It’s about generating more energy than you need or use. Just like you need to burn more calories than you eat in order to lose weight, same goes for energy conservation. Generate more renewable energy than your building uses and you’ll save money and break the unhealthy bond between you and your utility provider.

One great example of a net-zero energy building is the Boutique Hotel Stadthalle in Vienna, which features these as part of their self-sustaining charm:

  • Its solar panel wall can heat up enough hot water for the entire hotel.
  • Rainwater is collected on the roof and used to water the roof-top gardens and grounds, as well as being utilized to flush the toilets.
  • Electricity is provided by a photovoltaic solar power plant and three wind turbines.
  • Drinking water is vitalized by natural stones.

But I digress….what’s really exciting is the fact that the first net-zero energy public school is scheduled to open this year in Warren County, Kentucky.

The Warren County Public School System is no stranger to saving energy though. They received the 2009 Andromeda Star of Energy Efficiency Award for their ongoing commitment to reducing energy in their schools while at the same time educating their students on the benefits of energy efficiency. Their accomplishments included saving more than $4 million in energy savings over the prior 4 years, 28% reduction in energy usage, Energy Star ratings on fourteen buildings and more.

Now, in collaboration with CMTA, (a leader in engineering energy-efficient, green and highly sustainable buildings and schools) and the LEED Accredited Professionals from Sherman Carter Barnhart, Warren County is gearing up to have the first zero energy public school in the United States – Richardsville Elementary School.

Some of the key features in this zero energy public school include: insulated concrete form wall construction, geothermal HVAC with CO2 monitoring, daylighting through light shelves and Solatubes®, compact two-story design with reduced building volume, thin roof-adhered thin film photovoltaic system, energy-efficient lighting, reduced plug loads for computers, reduced energy use in the kitchen, solar water heating, bioswales, etc.

As you can see in this design, the school has been laid out so it can reap the most rewards from renewable energy sources such as the sun and wind. (School images courtesy of Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects)

With the renewable energy sources on site, Richardsville Elementary will produce enough energy every year to cover 100% of its estimated energy usage. Additionally, they expect the new building will reduce energy consumption by 75%.

But remember, this zero energy school isn’t just about the building, it’s about the students too. They want their students learning about how energy works, how to be more energy-efficient and more.

So…laptops are recharged in the “solar hallway” where students can actually see how much energy is being received from the solar panels. The “geothermal hallway” has colored pipes and temperature gauges. In the “water conservation hallway” students can see how much rainwater has been collected and used to flush toilets in the school’s restrooms. The “recycling hallway” shows students how they are doing at recycling around the school. They even have a weather station out on the patio, which they plan to incorporate into math and science studies.

It’s pretty cool when you think about it. I definitely look forward to seeing this net-zero energy public school once construction is completed and its on its way to being completely off the grid! If you are interested, you can follow the construction of the school via the Warren County Public Schools’ website.

Do you have a school near you, maybe your kids’ school, that is taking measures towards being more energy-efficient and working on educating its students on how to so the same? Contact your state school board, maybe there is a net-zero energy school on its way in your area.


  • Stephanie

    This is really great! We have a number of LEED-certified public schools in Bend, OR, but none that are net zero energy! Hopefully more schools will follow in its footsteps.


    Another fine post- and not forgetting it’s about student, faculty and community awareness too. I live in a community with a frigid winter climate where we still have single pane glass in classrooms. Replacing windows would make a huge difference but unfortunately too many people are living in a plentiful oil world still. Until the price creates a revolt I am afraid there is little change in sight and slow change at best for some schools.

  • Tara

    Thanks Steph – that’s awesome about the LEED-certified schools in Bend! It’s a good step forward, that’s for sure. Now onto some Zero Energy ones 🙂

    Thank you very much Glenn, so kind of you! That’s right, I think it’s great they are incorporating education into their implementation, so that students learn how to live more sustainable lives.

    Wow – it’s true, just one step like replacing the windows would make a great difference. Hopefully the kind of example Warren County Schools are setting will begin to become the norm.

  • Ria

    It’s really inspiring to know that more and more people are already adopting to green living. The idea in choosing materials for a green building is that, it must be an energy efficient product. Green products such as window tints would be a great idea in pursuing green buildings or even green homes and green cars. Sites such as discuss how window tints can be labeled as one of the most effective way to conserve energy consumption for less compared to other green related technology. They can also help you get LEED points for window film and find a dealer near your area. While most window films are for reducing solar heat gain in the summer, low-e films both block summer heat and improve winter heat retention.

  • francis

    Spring is right around the corner-it’s a great time to look into all the latest research and benefits of clean and renewable geothermal energy-it makes a lot of sense tapping into the earth for this super efficient and sustainable answer to our energy problems.

    • Tara

      Thanks Francis for checking out my blog. I appreciate your comment too. Lots of good renewable energy resources out there – that’s for sure!

  • Fred

    This looks extremely expensive to build. What is the cost of this project, and who is paying for it? By how much does this exceed the costs of conventional construction? What is the total cost of ownership compared to an equivalent structure?

    When you aren’t willing to openly and honestly admit the costs of something like this, it looks like another uneconomic boondoggle and a vanity project foisted on the taxpayers. Show us the numbers.

    • Tara

      Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post and for your comment Fred. I appreciate it!

      In terms of specific costs, I’m sure you can contact the Warren County School System to get specifics on costs.

      Considering how much they have been saving over the past few years with all their energy-efficient upgrades/changes, I think they are on the right track. I also think it’s smart of them to adapt these types of renewable energy resources and green construction into their buildings. Especially since they will be able to save money for years to come – not to mention help educate the children.

      You might have missed it, but one of the links I included in my post included this information as well:

      “During the past five years, WCPS has avoided costs of more than $4 million, reducing consumption by more than 28 percent.”


      “By implementing innovative energy-saving strategies such as Insulated Concrete Forms, solar panels, daylighting and geothermal heating and cooling, the Richardsville building is projected to save more than $230,000 annually.”

      That’s pretty good!

      However, I’m sure you can also contact the Warren County School directly for more information.

  • Carol Ormay

    Richardsville was designed and constructed under the budgetary guidelines of the Kentucky Department of Education. Even with the large solar PV array, the cost is approximately $197/square foot. That cost is being reduced due to grants available for solar PV. Even without the grants, the solar PV system will pay for itself in 15 years.

    The key to making Net Zero Energy affordable is reducing the overall energy use of the building. Richardsville Elementary will use 17 kBtu/square foot/per year. The “typical” school uses 73 kBtu/square foot/year.

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