State Policies & School Programs

Learn how zero energy schools are leading the zero energy buildings trend through policy and design.

State Policies & Programs   School & District Leadership   Research & Tools
This section highlights state policies and national programs working toward zero energy schools; districts pursuing zero energy and the strategies they use to achieve this target; feasibility studies, assessment strategies, and other technical looks at zero energy school design; and case studies of successful zero energy school buildings.

Schools represent the ideal building type to lead the market shift toward zero energy buildings. Currently, schools make up the third largest subsector of commercial building energy usage. Many schools face growing populations, aging buildings, constrained operating budgets, and increasing energy bills. The cost of energy is one of few budget items schools can reduce without negatively affecting student learning. A zero energy school presents the opportunity for environmental, economic, and educational benefits including improved indoor air quality, higher attendance rates and teacher retention, valuable educational opportunities, lower maintenance costs, and more stable budgets.


Better Building Zero Energy Schools Accelerator
The Zero Energy Schools Accelerator aims to make Zero Energy K-12 schools mainstream while enhancing the educational environment for the nation’s students. Energy consumption plays a significant role in the operational expenses of schools. Each year, a significant portion of taxpayer dollars is spent on school utility expenses, thereby cutting into funding that could be allocated to resources for students. Accelerator Partners will work with key stakeholders to demonstrate that zero energy buildings can be constructed with today’s technologies at the cost of a conventional code-compliant school. The Accelerator will bring together participants working toward zero energy schools construction. Goals of the Accelerator include: identify strategies to overcome market barriers related to building zero energy K-12 schools; share solutions, resources, and technologies that help schools achieve zero energy goals; develop replicable road maps to build zero energy schools; and increase visibility and replication of best practice approaches and successful models.

Collaborative for High Performance Schools
The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) believes kids learn better in schools with good lighting, clean air, and comfortable classrooms. CHPS works with schools and experts to make changes to ensure that every child has the best possible learning environment with the smallest impact on the planet. CHPS helps facilitate and inspire change in our educational system. The goals of CHPS are to fundamentally change the design, construction and operation of schools to: protect student and staff health, and enhance the learning environments of school children everywhere; conserve energy, water, and other natural resources; and reduce waste, pollution, and environmental degradation. CHPS offers best practices manuals, criteria and assessments, technical resources and a database for high performance products for every phase and type of project. CHPS can help implement best practices in the planning, designing, operating, specifying for, commissioning or maintaining a school.

California Proposition 39 ZNE Pilot Program
Proposition 39, the California Clean Energy Jobs Act of 2012 (Prop 39), provides up to $550 million per year to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of clean energy in public schools and community colleges. The Prop 39 ZNE Schools Pilot will assist schools in retrofitting existing facilities to zero net energy (ZNE) by leveraging Prop 39 funding.

Kentucky Net-Zero Energy Schools Program

As schools become more energy efficient, it becomes more feasible to consider utilization of solar power to meet the energy demands of the facility. A number of schools are pushing energy efficiency levels below 30 kBtu/sf/yr, providing an opportunity to introduce Kentucky’s first zero energy school.  ARRA funding provides a partial match to schools that install solar thermal or photovoltaic systems sufficient to bring the school to zero or near zero energy use.

Maryland Net Zero Energy School Initiative Grant Program
The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) and the Public School Construction Program (PSCP) have partnered in a Net Zero School Initiative to construct three new net zero energy schools in Maryland. Through the 2012 merger of Constellation Energy, the parent company of Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE), and Exelon Corporation, a Customer Investment Fund (CIF) was established to provide financial resources for long term energy efficiency and conservation goals. The Maryland Public Service Commission, the State of Maryland’s utility regulator, has approved the use of $9 million of CIF funding to create a program to enable the design and construction of three net zero energy public schools within the BGE service territory.

SMART Schools Program
The SMART Schools Challenge is divided into three sub-challenges: Energy Challenge, Recycling Challenge, and Green Schools Challenge. By enrolling in one, two, or all three of the sub-challenges, schools will receive a scholarship for building operator certification training, free technical assistance from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, a SMART Schools mentor from the Montana Chapter of the US Green Building Council, and have the opportunity to receive resource conservation presentations. Schools that enroll in the SMART Schools Challenge join a network of likeminded Montana schools and can learn from their peers’ resource conservation experiences.