At Wright School, Solar Power is the Right Stuff
Tuesday afternoon the sky was January gray and the temperature was below freezing. It seemed like an odd time for a solar story. And Wright Elementary School seemed like an odd place for something so scientific. After all, it’s the district’s designated “Artful Learning” school. It says so right on the sign out front.
But there we were, up on the roof, checking out the two recently installed solar panels that are providing some of the school’s hot water, free of charge. Due to the prevailing conditions on Tuesday they had the day off. But over the long haul they promise to be an efficient supplement to the building’s geothermal heating and cooling system.
Dave Berger, an Energy & Environmental Specialist in the DMPS Operations Department, says the panels at Wright are a pilot project that will be scaled up across the district.
“It’s a question of when, not if, these will be installed at other buildings,” he said. “Their cost is pretty minimal when you measure the recouping term against their life expectancy.”
Other elementary buildings are the most likely sites due to their relatively smaller size and reduced needs for hot water. Wright was chosen for the November installation because it has a good southern exposure and the boiler room is easily accessed from the rooftop.
The building dates to 1961 and still features some original equipment and fixtures such as hallway water fountains. But up top and down below it’s state of the art – or should that read state of the science?
Anna Pena, Wright’s Chief Engineer, says she doesn’t understand much about how the solar water heater augments the geothermal tank that stands in the corner of her “office,” but the quiet hum of the building’s innards is reassurance that all systems are working smoothly.
According to Berger the cost efficiency of the installation was further enhanced because it was handled by district personnel instead of having to be subcontracted.
“It took a couple of weeks,” Pena recalled, “but we haven’t had any problems with it since it was hooked up.”
A dusting of snow had to be swept off of the twin heat catchers, which measure a combined 7×16 feet, on Tuesday when they posed for their close-ups. Looking at them with jagged, artsy icicles in the background it was hard to feel the heat. But multiply them times a dozen or more buildings and factor in the inevitable sunny days and it isn’t hard to believe that their impact will be noticeable on the bottom line of the energy bill in a school district that’s already a perennial Energy Star Partner of the Year in the eyes of the Environmental Protection Agency (https://www.dmschools.org/news_release/epa-names-dmps-2015-energy-star-partner-of-the-year/).
“The cost for the sunshine is free and it will never go up,” Berger pointed out. “You can’t say that about utility rates.”
But you can say that again!