Key points:

  1. Significant public funds are available for K-12 schools in North America to implement energy-efficiency upgrades.
  2. Energy-efficient HVAC and ventilation projects are highlighted as qualifying solutions to receive public funds.
  3. The application process for the top prize, Renew America’s Schools Program, is now open and will close on June 13, 2024.

Did you know that K-12 school districts in North America spend nearly $8 billion annually on energy costs, the second largest expense after teacher salaries? What’s more, limited budgets and aging school facilities can result in deferred maintenance, with current estimates of around $270 billion needed for infrastructure repairs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

In an era where sustainability and energy efficiency are at the forefront of global initiatives, educational institutions play a pivotal role in fostering these values among future generations. Fortunately, various public funds and support are available across North America to foster energy-efficiency upgrades in K-12 schools. In this blog post, we’ll go into detail on the financial support that’s possible to help achieve a greener and more sustainable future for K-12 schools.

Before we jump in, take a look at our previous blog posts looking at the benefits of enhanced indoor air quality (IAQ) via energy recovery ventilators (ERVs) in K-12 schools: Healthier Classrooms, Healthier Minds, Healthier Planet via ERVs and Breathing Fresh Air into Learning: The Cognitive Benefits of ERVs in K-12 Classrooms. Now, let’s examine the public funds available for energy-efficiency upgrades in K-12 schools.

Renew America’s Schools Program

The largest initiative presently is the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)’s $500 million Renew America’s Schools Program to promote clean-energy improvements at K-12 public schools across the country. This first-of-its-kind investment aims to help school communities make energy upgrades that will decrease energy use and costs, improve IAQ and establish healthier learning environments.

Through grants and funding opportunities, the DOE supports projects ranging from HVAC system upgrades to lighting retrofits and renewable energy installations. By leveraging these resources, K-12 schools can not only reduce their environmental footprint but also cut down on utility costs, thus freeing up additional funds for educational purposes.

The Renew America’s Schools Program launched its first round of funding in 2022. To date, it has invested $182.5 million in public school districts across America. Applications are now open for the second round of funding: The 2024 Renew America’s Schools Prize. Like the 2022 Renew America’s Schools grant, the 2024 prize will fund energy-efficient and clean-energy infrastructure improvements in districts across the country. The application process will close on June 13, 2024.

Grants for School Infrastructure Investments

In January of 2024, several new grants were announced to improve the infrastructure of U.S. schools. These include eight awards totaling more than $37 million over five years under the Supporting America’s School Infrastructure (SASI) program and one for $10 million over five years under the National Center on School Infrastructure (NCSI) program.

This $47 million investment, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, intends to bolster the capacity of states to support improvements across the board in school districts. These grants intend to provide more equitable access to healthy, sustainable, and modern learning environments for all students.

 Inflation Reduction Act Tax Credits

 The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) offers the largest investment in clean energy in U.S. history. The Act also creates a unique opportunity for K-12 school districts to leverage federal tax credits to fund investments in clean-energy infrastructure and reduce costs. School districts can claim certain clean-energy tax credits and receive funds directly from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for their qualifying projects or investments. For example, school districts that meet underlying requirements can claim clean-energy tax credits including the Investment Tax Credit (48, 48E) and the Production Tax Credit (45, 45Y).

 Efficient Healthy Schools Program

Another valuable resource for K-12 schools seeking energy-efficiency upgrades is the Efficient Healthy Schools Program, which is led by the DOE and administered by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL). This initiative focuses on creating healthier and more energy-efficient learning environments by addressing IAQ, thermal comfort and lighting conditions.

Although it doesn’t provide funding directly, joining the program offers access to a network of experts and resources dedicated to optimizing indoor environments energy-efficiently for student wellbeing and academic success. From conducting energy audits to facilitating staff training sessions, the program provides support throughout the upgrade process, ensuring that schools achieve their sustainability goals effectively and affordably.

State-Specific Initiatives: California and New York

 Several states are also offering public funds for energy-efficiency upgrades in K-12 schools. For example, California already awarded more than $1.7 billion to schools to plan and install energy-efficiency upgrades, and more funds will be made available later in 2024. These include the Bright Schools Program, which helps identify the most cost-effective energy saving opportunities for schools, and the Energy Conservation Assistance Act, which offers zero-interest loans to public schools for energy-efficiency projects. To stay informed on when these funds will be available, click the links for each initiative above and sign up for alerts.

New York State has also stepped up its support for K-12 educational facilities. Schools in the state now have $100 million available through the Clean Green School Initiative to help implement environmental sustainability projects. Specifically, the initiative aims to reduce school energy loads, decarbonize building portfolios, improve IAQ and support clean-energy initiatives.

 Qualify for Public Funds by Ventilating with RenewAire ERVs

 The main challenge of creating healthier and cleaner indoor air in K-12 schools is the need for more energy, and thus greater costs, to increase ventilation. However, ERVs provide an effective solution to this barrier by enhancing IAQ energy-efficiently, cost-effectively and sustainably.

ERVs exchange stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air while recovering energy from the exhaust air stream, thus optimizing both IAQ and energy efficiency. As a result, by implementing ERVs for ventilation projects, K-12 schools will be able to qualify for public funds in programs like the ones listed in this blog post. To learn how this is possible, Contact RenewAire today for more information.

Indeed, the DOE encourages the use of ERVs when retrofitting existing HVAC systems to improve IAQ and save energy: “Energy-efficient ventilation systems also incorporate energy recovery ventilation. Ventilation systems without ERVs waste energy by exhausting the cooled or heated air from the building. As a result, the space conditioning systems use more energy to re-heat or cool the fresh air brought in from outside. ERVs transfer the energy between the outdoor supply air and the exhaust air streams. This prevents the ventilation system from wasting energy and can increase efficiency substantially.”

 In Summary

As the demand for energy efficiency and sustainability continues to grow, K-12 schools face increasing pressure to modernize their facilities and reduce their environmental impact. Fortunately, a wealth of public funds and resources are available to support these efforts across North America. From the Renew America’s Schools Program to DOE grants to initiatives like the Efficient Healthy Schools Program, K-12 educational institutions have access to a diverse array of opportunities for financing energy-efficiency upgrades.

By leveraging these resources effectively, K-12 schools can not only lower their operating costs and carbon emissions but also create healthier and more comfortable learning environments for students and staff alike.

For more information on how ERVs enhance IAQ in K-12 schools energy-efficiently, thus creating healthier classrooms and minds, as well as a healthier planet, click here.