This study investigates decision-making patterns and funding practices, as well as the feasibility of implementing Zero Net Energy (ZNE) in kindergarten through twelfth grade schools (K-12) and community colleges (collectively referred to as “K-14”). While California has seen several notable verified ZNE schools constructed recently, no schools have yet been retrofit to meet this standard; however, ZNE retrofits are expected to become typical among existing schools as California pursues its energy goals in the coming years.
This study assesses the budgetary, informational, organizational, and technical barriers that face K-14 decision-makers, and proposes recommendations on how best to stimulate and enable this market to achieve ZNE.
The findings from the technical analysis are in line with lessons learned in current ZNE projects (of which 38% are education buildings throughout the United States). For example, research on existing ZNE projects suggest that ZNE project and school teams consistently implement five key approaches that are not standard practice for design.
Specifically, they 1) start early with a ZNE goal at the onset of the project, 2) routinely set an energy target, 3) use this energy target to organize decisions during design and construction, 4) prioritize drastic energy load reduction first and then serve these reduced loads with efficiency systems and eventually renewables, and 5) measure actual – rather than modeled – energy performance.
The study also identifies barriers. While school decision makers care most about educating students this research identified three primary barriers to ZNE in the K-14 market:
- Lack of awareness regarding energy and ZNE.
- The lack of appropriate processes to address energy usage and savings.
- The lack of dedicated funds for building maintenance and improvements which has led to significant deferred maintenance challenges.
Overcoming these barriers and achieving ZNE will require coordinated action by many stakeholders across a diverse and complicated market. This study provides recommendations to address each of these barriers.