Geothermal for Green Schools

Lady Bird Johnson Middle School: A Case History in Using Renewables

Learning about renewable forms of energy

LadyBird_0189_small.jpgSaving energy in the way we live today is an important objective for all of us. It will be even more important in the future when you are adults. Protecting the environment from the effects of burning fossil fuels in our homes, buildings and automobiles means turning to other forms of energy, like wind and solar power.

You know of these alternatives because you’ve seen them in use: wind turbines on the landscape and in the oceans and solar panels in fields and up on rooftops. We call these “renewable” forms of energy because they will not run out.

Introducing geothermal energy

There is another form of “renewable” energy that you should know about: it’s called geothermal. Geo means earth and thermal means heat.

50_sun_energy_Stored.pngThere is heat energy in the ground all the time that comes from the sun. In fact, 50% of the sun’s energy is absorbed by the earth. We have learned to tap that heat energy in the ground beneath us in order to heat and cool our homes and buildings, including our school buildings. 

Geothermal energy is drawn up from the earth in wintertime to provide heat, and in the summer the heat in our buildings is removed and placed back into the ground to cool our buildings. We connect pipes from the home or building into the ground and back. A device called a heat pump transfers the heat energy back and forth from the building to the ground.

Geothermal energy is very clean and efficient. It does not directly burn fossil fuels. And it is more efficient than either solar or wind power because, while the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow, the heat energy from the sun is always available to us. 

Making renewables a reality in a middle school

LBJ_stamp.jpgImagine going to a school where renewable energy is used to heat and cool the building? And where the students are taught about renewable energy and conservation as part of their course studies?

Such a school is located in Texas, just outside Dallas. It’s called the Lady Bird Johnson Middle School. Lady Bird Johnson was the wife of Lyndon Johnson, who was President of the United States during the 1960s. Lady Bird was ahead of her time in calling for “beautification” of the environment: she was environmentally conscious back then. So naming a school after her that uses clean renewable technologies is a fitting tribute to her.

LBJ Middle School’s renewables

LBJ Middle School has about 1,000 students in grades 6 through 8. The school was designed and built to use renewables and to showcase them so that the students can see them in operation and learn about their benefits for the environment. Students from other area schools visit LBJ MS to see and learn about renewables. Here’s some facts about the renewables at work at LBJ MS:

  • 3,000 solar panels on the roof to produce electricity
  • 12 wind turbines to generate electricity
  • 107 geothermal heat pumps connected to wells underneath the school’s football field and parking lot


Other conservation practices at LBJ Middle School

LadyBird_0255_small.jpgIn addition to using renewable forms of energy, LBJ MS also features these energy saving and recycling elements:

  • LED (light emitting diode) lighting with light shelves
  • Use of the day’s natural light (daylighting) to illuminate interior spaces
  • High efficiency window glazing
  • Wall and roof insulation to provide the building with a tight wrap which cuts down on energy use
  • Use of a water cistern container to recycle/reuse what’s called “gray water” or water that’s been used once already. Gray water is used to irrigate the school’s grounds
  • Composting of waste from the school’s cafeteria
  • ENERGY Star rated appliances/equipment in the cafeteria 

A “living laboratory”

LadyBird_1186_small.jpgLBJ Middle School is known as a “living laboratory.” It is a truly “green” school and students are taught about the environment and the renewables that power the school’s lighting and provide its cooling in summer and heating, when needed, in winter. In the school’s main corridor there are interactive displays for solar, wind and geothermal that students study.

The school’s renewable systems are monitored so students can observe them in action. The students study renewables and environmental issues as part of their class studies, and they are assigned projects in math class, science class and even in art class. They also take assignments home with them to study and record their families and neighborhoods’ conservation efforts.

Some students are assigned each year as “Ambassadors” so they can tell the story of their school’s efforts to visitors. The teachers at Lady Bird Johnson want to connect what their students learn at school to what is happening in the outside world. They also want their students to learn how to think and act critically, be problem solvers, and become lifelong friends of nature and the environment.

What some LBJ MS students have to say about their school

“Lady Bird Johnson has a very small carbon footprint. What’s important to me is that we save our energy and we make our own energy.” Bryce

“Being in a school like Lady Bird has taught me a bigger responsibility to go out into the world and share what I have learned. It makes me a better role model.” Soleil


Saving energy & achieving zero net energy

LadyBird_0684_small.jpgLady Bird MS opened in 2011 in time for the next school year. As of 2014, the school’s energy use reduction has been dramatic, saving the school more than $100,000 a year on electricity. And the school has achieved one of its major goals: to become a Zero Net Energy school.

What is Zero Net Energy?

What happens when we combine renewables is that they work together to maximize energy savings. For example, combining captured solar energy with geothermal energy is a true reducer when it comes to energy use.

For a home or a school building, Zero Net Energy means that the total amount of energy used on a yearly basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the site. Over the course of a year, a Zero Net Energy home or building sometimes uses electricity supplied by the electric company through its “grid,” but then returns roughly the same amount of stored electricity (from the solar units) back to the electricity grid. So it’s more or less an even trade.

The most highly efficient homes and buildings in the world achieve Zero Net Energy of “near zero net energy.” This is due to the renewables employed. We will see many more such buildings in the future.

What LBJ MS Promises

Buildings like Lady Bird Johnson Middle School may be the exception today but when you reach adulthood they will be the norm. That’s because saving energy and conserving resources is important to all of us, and especially to the world that you will grow up and inherit. As schools like Lady Bird Johnson MS teach students about good energy practices, they foster understanding and respect for the natural world around us.

Are you Ready to Geo?

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