Prize Aims To Build Sustainability Knowledge and Capacity Within Local Education Agencies
The $4.5 million Energy CLASS Prize was designed to help underserved schools execute
sustainability initiatives including energy efficiency upgrades, improved indoor air
quality, and more. Graphic by NREL
Schools across the United States can benefit from infrastructure upgrades—improved
ventilation and increased energy efficiency is good for students, teachers, and the school’s bottom line. But in understaffed and underfunded schools around the
country, the ability to implement these sustainability measures often remains out
The new American-Made Energy CLASS (Champions Leading the Advancement of Sustainable Schools) Prize was created to help bring those measures back into the realm of possibility for some
of the country’s most underserved schools. On the heels of the launch of the Renew America’s Schools Grant, the Office of State and Community Energy Programs (SCEP) within the U.S. Department
of Energy (DOE) announced it was also creating the Energy CLASS Prize, designed to
provide training and cash awards to energy-efficiency leaders at local education agencies
These personnel—either existing staff or new hires—will learn to identify, plan, and
implement critical upgrades in school facilities. Their training will position them
to make meaningful infrastructure improvements that will reduce utility costs, produce
better indoor air quality, and improve learning environments in the long term.
“We know that many school administrators would love to implement a strong sustainability
program at their schools,” said Julia Sullivan, a sustainable buildings researcher
in the Building Technologies and Science Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory
and Energy CLASS Prize technical lead. “But limited budgets and tight staffing get
in the way. The Energy CLASS Prize hopes to give the most in-need schools the tools
and personnel they need so they can start reaping the benefits of infrastructure upgrades.”
And those benefits could be significant, potentially reducing financial burdens in
K–12 public schools, where annual energy costs total $8 billion and represent the
second-largest expense after teacher salaries. In addition, upgrading poorly maintained,
critical building systems—such as heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems—can
dramatically reduce respiratory issues and the spread of infectious diseases within
schools. (Explore the Environmental Protection Agency’s report on all the ways good indoor air quality can have positive effects on cognitive performance
and development, student attendance, and more.)
In order to take advantage of all of these potential benefits, LEAs are encouraged
to learn more about the prize and start preparing their submissions ahead of the deadline on Feb. 28, 2023.
A total of $4.5 million in awards is available through the two-phase Energy CLASS
Prize, including $3.75 million in cash prizes for selected LEAs to fund energy management
professionals in training and an additional $750,000 in technical assistance from
Energy CLASS Training Network partners. This network includes professional training
organizations and energy efficiency experts who will provide training and support
to Energy CLASS participants.
The prize is currently open for Phase 1 submissions. LEAs interested in applying will
be required to submit a statement of need and letters of support, demonstrate their
commitment to making building energy upgrades, and identify staff to participate in
Up to 25 LEAs will be selected from among the submissions to move on to Phase 2. Each
of these will receive $100,000 in cash prizes and have the opportunity to participate
in 80–160 hours of online educational courses delivered by training professionals.
In addition to DOE-funded trainings, teams will receive one-on-one support and coaching
as they work to implement efficiency upgrades in their districts.
At the conclusion of Phase 2, participants will submit a progress report on actions
identified or taken to date and a plan for future building upgrades. Those that can
demonstrate significant commitment to and progress on goals have an opportunity to
earn an additional $50,000 bonus prize.
The American-Made Buildings Prize is administered by the National Renewable Energy
Laboratory and is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s State and Community Energy
Visit the American-Made program website to learn more about similar competitions designed to accelerate energy efficiency,
and follow the Energy CLASS Prize to get regular challenge updates.