A solar water heating system and modernization of the existing electric water heating system are now a team at the West Washington School Corporation near Campbellsburg in Washington County, Indiana. While this team may not score points on the basketball court, it will score points with the students, teachers, administrators and parents as it will significantly lower energy costs and provide an educational tool for the school at the same time.
Jackson County REMC, headquartered in Brownstown, has served the electric needs of the West Washington campus in Washington County for decades. When school officials looked for ways to reduce energy costs, they spoke with the local cooperative, whose headquarters are located just one county away.
The cooperative helped the school monitor its existing water heating system to find the inefficiencies. Not only was the system old, but it stretched over long wings of the school building, losing heat during its travel. The system also used a recirculation loop that was dated technology; it provided faster hot water at some spigots, but wasted a great deal of thermal energy to do so. “We were spending hundreds of dollars every month just to keep hot water circulating in that loop, even when the school was empty,” Tim Reinhart, Facilities Manager of the school system, said.
The cooperative and the school concluded that the answer was the replacement of the antiquated system with two new water heating systems that distributed the hot water closer to the demand centers. The heating equipment was upgraded to achieve greater efficiency. And then the solar water heating was added to reduce fuel costs and provide the demonstration opportunity for the students and the community. “We approached Tim with the idea of solar hot water and he was all for it,” said Brian Wolka, who works with industrial and commercial accounts on behalf of Jackson County REMC.
Now, instead of the old 600 gallon storage tank, the school has two smaller water heaters and two arrays of solar panels – three panels on the north wing of the school and two panels on the south wing. Early estimates were that the solar hot water system could meet up to 70% of the hot water needs of the school. So far, through the first few months of operation, overall electricity demand in the school is down fourteen percent, even through the weather has been colder than the prior year.
For Jackson County REMC, the story appears to be heading towards a successful conclusion, as they monitor energy use and gather data. Working with commercial, industrial and institutional customers is a high priority for the cooperative, and with their local presence in their service area, the co-op personnel are able to be actively involved in evaluating and solving issues that concern the customers.
That level of customer commitment may be old school thinking, but it’s a lesson the co-op revisits on a regular basis.