Schools are the backbone of our neighborhoods. They foster growth and prosperity for our youngest citizens, and are seen as staples within our communities. In addition to educating our children, the physical buildings are often used to service large crowds, for activities such as craft shows, fundraisers, guest speakers, and voting booths. And they act as shelter centers in disaster situations, providing hot meals and showers to those displaced from their homes.
In the worst of circumstances when power is lost, these valuable necessities can become unavailable, making it even harder for communities to cope and begin to recover. During these situations, it is common for schools and disaster recovery supporters to turn to gas-powered generators, which are effective but costly and not friendly to the environment. To reduce their carbon footprints, some schools have started to utilize fuel cell technology to help them through not only the most difficult times, but also in the day-to-day operations of the school.
Fuel cells began to be implemented in schools starting in 2002, when South Windsor High School in Connecticut chose a fuel cell power plant for its backup source of power. This decision saves the school over $80,000 annually in its day-to-day operations, and gives the school the ability to trade renewable energy credits, adding another $55,000 a year in financial gain. Fuel cells also provide a learning opportunity for students who collect data and learn about environmentally friendly sources of energy. In 2011, the fuel cell power plant was put to the ultimate test when an unusually early and large snowstorm left the residents of Hartford without power. Designated as the local storm shelter, South Windsor High was able to use the natural gas-powered fuel cells to provide the school with electricity and heat. The storm left residents stranded for over three days, and the school was able to provide shelter to 200 people a night, 600 hot meals each day, and accommodate hot showers, a nurse’s station, and power outlets that could be used for charging cell phones (“Fuel Cells for Schools” – https://www.cleanegroup.org/wp-content/uploads/Fuel-Cells-in-Resilient-Power-Projects-for-Schools.pdf).
Other schools are following the example of South Windsor High School. In 2011, Hamden High School installed fuel cells as a backup power source. As a designated emergency shelter, this school decided to have the ability to provide power even during outages while reaping the benefits of the day-to-day savings—all while teaching environmental sustainability by practice.
As the hubs of our communities, with the capacity to host large groups of people, it is logical our schools would be designated as emergency shelters. Fuel cells are helping schools, and all emergency shelters, run as seamlessly as possible during the most trying of circumstances by providing the energy needed for electricity, food preparation, and showers, while also saving the school money in its daily operations—all while lessening the negative environmental impact and providing educational opportunities about clean energy.