A Strive to Net-Zero: Insulation in Residential Housing; Adopting Sustainable Technology in Public Schools

Palmer, Cathryn, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Foley, Rider, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Chelliah, Harsha, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia

The burning of fossil fuels that release carbon into the earth’s atmosphere is a major contributor to climate change in the United States (U.S.). Cleaner methods of energy generation, such as solar technology, were discovered decades ago, but significant changes have yet to be made in the utilities industry in the U.S., which still relies heavily on coal and natural gas. Net-zero house technology aims to reduce the large carbon footprint of residential energy generation by sustainably generating enough energy to offset what the owner consumes in a year. The goal of our project was to improve this technology so that the average consumer in the United States would easily be able to adopt net-zero elements into their home. Making the switch to cleaner energy involves more than creating better technology that works. The energy consumers have to decide to switch from their current comfortable practices to these new methods that may involve some sacrifice. Overlooking the social implications of cleaner energy could alienate anyone who does not decide to immediately adopt new technologies. In order to analyze how human decision-making is related to the adoption of cleaner energy practices in the U.S., I focused my research on adopting solar panels in Kindergarten to 12th grade (K-12) schools in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. Because climate change and politics are closely linked in the U.S., the theory of techno-politics was an important lens for analyzing human relations with clean energy technology. Technology viewed through the lens of techno-politics could be viewed either as embedded with political motives or created in order to achieve a social or political outcome. A case study of solar energy use in K-12 schools in Albemarle County was conducted through this lens of techno-politics. Through this research, I found four social and political factors that are preventing schools from adopting sustainable technology. These factors were power dynamics with the local and state government, lack of funding from the state, alternate priorities in school funding, and lack of community involvement. Implementing net-zero house technology in the U.S. could have a significant positive impact on carbon emissions, but it will require individual consumer effort as well as affordable and reliable technologies. In order to truly make the switch to renewable technology, the average person must believe that the current system needs to change and that the new sustainable options are better for them.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Sustainability, Energy, Politics

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harsha Chelliah
STS Advisor: Rider Foley
Technical Team Members: Max Gerber, Amelia Kokernak, Jack Pazin

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