WOODS CROSS — It took just a few clicks on his laptop for Davis School District Director of Energy Management Doug Anderson to see there were 915 parts per million of carbon dioxide inside Room 1216 in Odyssey Elementary School.
“We have CO2 sensors in all the rooms that measure how much air is being breathed out, and then we know how much fresh air to put back into that space,” he said.
Having high-tech sensors and real-time access to every piece of glass, concrete and piping inside the school is just a part of how several Davis School District schools are becoming U.S. Department of Energy Zero Energy Buildings.
That designation means the schools make as much or more energy than is consumed.
Anderson said a combination of solar panels, smart architecture and technology allows the building to respond to its climate and inhabitants.
Odyssey Elementary was built to be a Zero Emissions Building (ZEB) in Woods Cross on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. The school is equipped with geothermal heating and cooling, indirect evaporative cooling, Photovoltaic arrays (solar panels), skylights with glare control, LED lighting and many more energy efficient systems.
“The automation system in the building is actually smart enough to say ‘The power is starting to get too high, we need to go to gas,’ and when we start using gas and power comes back down, we go to power,” he said.
Along with Odyssey, Kays Creek and Canyon Creek elementary schools were built to be Zero Energy Buildings and architecturally look similar from the outside but haven’t been open long enough to have the data for certification from the DOE.
Anderson said in an average building similar to Odyssey in size, utilities cost about $1 per square foot. The average Davis School District building costs 75 cents per square foot, and Odyssey was at 28 cents per square foot as of Wednesday of last week.
“We manage the building very efficiently,” Anderson said. “We try to run a tight ship.”
This is partially because the school uses technology similar to a swamp cooler instead of a chiller, has better insulation, and automatically controls room climate based on how many people are in it.
Facts and figures
The Davis School District has more than 100 facilities, 36 of which are are certified Energy Star Schools by the DOE.
In the last 10 years, the district’s overall square footage has increased by 22 percent, but energy usage has decreased by 16 percent.
Anderson said he has been with Davis for 21 years and knows the district was mindful of energy for about a decade before he got there. The district started the Zero Energy Building initiative with Endeavor Elementary School about 10 years ago, but many improvements have been made since, including going from one floor to two.
“We get good at what we’re doing, and we want to take it a step further and make it better,” Anderson said.
To date, Odyssey has used only 271,000 kWh of the 386,000 kWh of energy the building has generated through its photovoltaic array system, more commonly known as solar panels. The building has 1,100 solar panels that are capable of producing up to 320 kW of power.
Anderson said Rocky Mountain Power allows the Zero Energy Building schools to bank the excess solar energy for credit when the school needs it. Last Wednesday was one of those days, as it was cloudy and the school’s solar panels were producing only .8 kW while the building was using 123 kW.
“In the summertime, this turns into a big power generator for us,” he said.
Anderson said the excess power bank is eliminated every March, so it was important not to have too many solar panels when constructing the school.
Utilities cost between $800 to $1,500 per month at Odyssey, and Anderson said the range is wide because the school is largely empty in the summer months, when utility costs are lower. In comparison, Creekside Elementary School, which was built 18 years ago, pays between $2,200 and $6,000 per month for utilities.
This year, Odyssey’s utility costs will reach only about $23,000.
The amount of energy it takes to heat, cool and otherwise power a building efficiently is about 30 kBtu . At Odyssey last Wednesday, the school was using 7 kBtu.
It will take 10 to 13 years to earn back the money put into making Odyssey a Zero Energy Building, excluding the solar panels, which will take about 20 years. Anderson said the district plans to inhabit the building for about 50 years.
The real-time online monitoring system also allows for speedy repairs. On Wednesday, the icon for Adams Elementary School was blinking bright red because an air handler was tripped.
“We’re trying to make it so, if there’s any problem in the school district, we know about it,” Anderson said.
Canyon Creek Elementary School Principal Vonzaa Hewitt said she knows her new building is economically beneficial to the district, but she doesn’t really notice much of a difference because it’s so self-sufficient.
“It just kind of takes care of itself, which is pretty cool, and it’s fun to teach the kids about,” she said.
The students at Odyssey also get to interact with and learn from their high-tech building.
“Here’s our water usage and you can select like, toilets, and you can see how many flushes there are per day,” he said.
Fifth-grade teacher Melissa Norman said her students tour the school’s boiler room to learn about how it works.
When she was the same age as her students, classes were just talking about recycling, she said. “This is on a whole different level where we’re using it in every subject.”