The NREL Blueprint for Greener NoLa

Hurricane Katrina destroyed schools as well as homes and businesses–and now, five years later, the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is helping with the green re-building of the Big Easy by creating an energy efficient blueprint the city’s schools can elect to adopt.

Ironically, some of New Orleans’ oldest schools were among the most energy efficient, as those built 80 to 100 years ago feature large windows oriented for natural ventilation and sunlight. Schools constructed in the last half of a century, though, were not built with efficiency in mind, said Phil Voss, senior project leader for NREL’s effort in New Orleans, in a statement. In a cash-strapped area of the country, that adds up to tens of millions of dollars that could have been spent to improve education.

NOLA Schools

image via National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Among other things, the green blueprint for New Orleans’  40 new schools and 38 schools facing major renovation will include more natural daylighting (which, according to several studies, actually improves academic performance in the classroom), as well as properly sized heating and cooling systems, and more insulation.  As per the Department of Energy’s 2007 memorandum of understanding with the Louisiana Department of Education, they’ll also be at least 30 percent more efficient than code.

While the green blueprint for New Orleans’ new schools are projected to save schools tens of millions of dollars per decade, the designs will also run school districts several million dollars above and beyond what it would cost to build a school merely to code, so whether NoLa’s new schools will go for the green remains to be seen.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.