Solar will light nation’s largest net-zero school

When Lady Bird Johnson Middle School in Irving, Texas, opens in August, a 583-kilowatt solar photovoltaic installation will help to make it the largest net-zero school in the country.

Net-zero means the school will produce as much energy as it uses, drawing nothing from the communal electricity grid.

“We’re really excited,” said Scott Layne, assistant superintendent in charge of operations for the Irving Independent School District. “We know we’re going to be the first net-zero school in Texas. And we may be the only middle school in the country.”

The school will open in August with 800 students and is built to hold up to 1,000, Layne said.

GridPoint Renewable Energy Solution will install the Solyndra solar panels, a unique cylindrical solar module, on the roof of the school.

“You won’t even be able to see them,” Layne said. “We will have a couple at the entrance to the school so people can look at them.”

He said the school will also have a rooftop observation deck where students, staff and community members can go to see the panels.

“This isn’t just a good deal; it’s really cool for the kids,” Layne said. “It’s going to be curriculum-integrated.”

Students will be learning about solar energy and energy conservation in practically applicable lessons that bridge all realms of study, Layne said.

Aside from the solar installation, the school features hundreds of other energy-saving technologies. The school uses less than half the energy of a typical middle school, according to Layne.

There will be four leaning nodes throughout the school designed by museum and technology experts that explain and offer lessons about the solar features, the 12 wind turbines, the geothermal climate control system and the school’s advanced water conservation system, Layne said.

The school is expected to generate more than 830 kilowatt hours of electricity each year with the solar installation, Layne said.

Engineers and architects expect that the school will only use about 700 of those kilowatt hours, Layne said.

“Of course, that all depends on how we use the building, how much after-hours activity there is,” he said. “We’ve built a lot of that in. But we won’t really know until we start living in it.”

This new school was much needed. The Irving Independent School District has been growing quickly and needed a new middle school facility. Layne said the district is redrawing boundaries and will draw students from other over-crowded middle schools.

“We’re really excited about this building,” he said. “It’s exciting for the community and the state, too.”

Image courtesy of Charter Builders.