Amy Vaughn is a fellow in the 2019 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As part of the LEAF Fellowship, Amy worked with NC GreenPower over the summer of 2019. Amy is a senior at UNC majoring in Environmental Science and Economics with a minor in Information Science. She currently works at the EFC as a Research Assistant.
As the renewable energy sector continues to grow rapidly in North Carolina, it is important that the next generation understands how to use these resources and the data that energy creates. This is achieved most effectively with hands on learning experience at a young age. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for K-12 schools to adapt their curriculum and train teachers, let alone invest in educational materials like solar panels.
Recognizing this barrier, NC GreenPower introduced their Solar Schools program in an effort to support community solar photovoltaic (PV) projects and expand renewable energy education in North Carolina. This program is open to every K-12 school in North Carolina and provides matching grants from NC GreenPower and the potential for an additional grant from the State Employees Credit Union (SECU) Foundation for public schools. The remaining balance of the system, typically 30-40% of the total cost, is fundraised by the school and its broader community. Grant recipients receive up to a 5 kilowatt (kW) solar installation along with a weather station, real-time monitoring equipment, STEM curriculum and teacher training needed to implement renewable energy education into existing class curricula. Continue reading
On February 8, 2019, over sixty leaders and stakeholders from around North Carolina and the Triangle assembled to work towards facilitating a partnership for green schools in Wake County at the Green Schools Symposium. This event, hosted by the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) and funded by the Conservation Fund, saw representation from the public and private sectors, government agencies, and non-profits. Represented parties included but were not limited to:
- The City of Raleigh
- WakeUP Wake County
- NC Conservation Network
- North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality
- Wake County Government
- NC GreenPower
- American Rivers
- Wake County Public School System (WCPSS)
In fact, the green schools conversation has been happening for many years in Wake County—and many of the innovators behind existing green school work in the area took time to attend the symposium. The day was intended to bring together representatives from parallel green school efforts occurring across the county, and to have one conversation that could include many voices. Although the EFC did its best to reach as many of those individuals as possible, in the end, there were more registrants than the space and food could accommodate! The day included many meaningful connections, sparked enthusiasm and innovative ideas, and continued a conversation that will hopefully be continuing over the next few months to put in place some of the clear cut goals and outcomes discussed below… Continue reading
Kate Fialko is a fellow in the 2018 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. Kate spent the summer of 2018 with Orange Water and Sewer Authority (OWASA), where she assisted with an investigation into possible productive use of biogas from the wastewater treatment process. She built a preliminary model to determine whether a town could economically convert its fleet to run on CNG.
Many of us know the wastewater treatment process generates water clean enough to put back into the environment, but it also produces biogas. Biogas is the mix of gases produced by anaerobic digestion (the breakdown of organic material in the absence of oxygen) and, since a primary component is methane, it can be used as an alternative fuel source. Utilities commonly use a portion of the biogas they generate to fuel the digestion process and then flare the remaining biogas to dispose of it. Rather than just emit this excess biogas, some utilities are investigating additional ways to productively use biogas in order to save fuel and increase resiliency by creating a new energy source. Options include using the biogas to fuel a combined heat and power system and injecting processed biogas into a natural gas pipeline.
Another option is converting biogas into compressed natural gas (CNG) for use in vehicles. Typically a utility needs to have consistent CNG customers for this to be worthwhile financially, and converting a municipal fleet to run on CNG could provide the needed demand. However, municipalities must carefully consider any fleet conversion decision to ensure they are using tax payer dollars efficiently. Continue reading
Guest post by Brian Dabson
The scale and complexity of the issues surrounding North Carolina’s manufactured homes stock was the subject of a previous blog post, Hidden in Plain Sight. Over 1.3 million people in the state live in 480,000 manufactured homes, making them a vital part of the affordable housing stock especially in rural counties. However, challenges associated with high utility bills, vulnerability to flooding and high winds, and deteriorating condition of older homes suggest an urgent need for action. That said, responsibility and capacity for action is spread across multiple agencies and individuals with little incentive for any concerted or coordinated effort.
The School of Government interviewed 40 stakeholders with connections with manufactured home building, installation, maintenance, financing, regulation, removal, resident representation, and housing policy. It was apparent that bringing these stakeholders together might be a productive way forward. So, in April 2018, the School convened a workshop which attracted 32 participants from 25 organizations—ranging from the North Carolina Manufactured & Modular Homebuilders Association to the North Carolina Justice Center, from the Roanoke Electric Cooperative to Habitat for Humanity NC, and from the NC Department of Insurance to the Choanoke Area Development Association—to consider possible strategies and action steps to meet the mobile homes challenge.
Guest post by Brian Dabson
Mobile homes are a vital but generally unloved part of North Carolina’s affordable housing stock. They come to public attention in times of extreme weather, particularly high winds and floods. Their condition and location make them especially vulnerable to damage, and often their occupants—the elderly, people with disabilities, and the poor—are least able to cope with the consequences. This blog post looks at some of the challenges and opportunities for improving conditions using energy efficiency initiatives for low-income North Carolinians, particularly in our more rural counties.