COLUMBUS, Ind. (AP) — A south-central Indiana elementary school is tapping the power of the sun to heat its water supply and hold down its utility bills.
The roof of Mt. Healthy Elementary School in Columbus has been fitted with six 4-by-10-foot solar panels that can produce enough heat on sunny days to warm 480 gallons of water to a toasty 120 degrees. The solar panels are linked by pipes to two exchange tanks in an indoor maintenance room.
Cloudy days reduce the panels’ effectiveness, but the school’s general electrical system makes up the heating difference on those days.
The new system is expected to save the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. hundreds of dollars a week, said Charlie McCoy, the district’s energy manage.
“Savings isn’t the only point,” he told The Republic (http://www.therepublic.com/ ) for a Monday story. “We’ll be reducing carbon emissions by hundreds of tons in the life of this thing.”
The system was purchased and installed with a $67,000 grant from Hoosier Energy Rural Cooperative Inc. and represents an innovation that district officials hope leads to improved energy efficiency in all of its schools in the city about 45 miles south of Indianapolis.
McCoy said he hopes teachers from kindergarten through high school will use real-time data of the system’s energy savings that will be posted online to teach students about technology and energy efficiency.
District officials have had success trying to cut energy consumption among all the school system’s buildings, primarily through simple changes to operating systems and by asking teachers, custodians and others to do things like turning off lights when they leave unoccupied rooms.
The district spent $2.8 million in energy between July 2011 and June 2012 — about $216,000 less than what it spent previously, McCoy said.
District superintendent John Quick said that combining the system with an online educational component might make the school system even more receptive to solar opportunities in the future as the technology matures.
“When there’s zero cost, there’s no reason not to,” he said.