Bird's Eye View News

Head-Royce Sets the Gold Standard for Green Living

As Head-Royce welcomed 137 new students to campus this fall, we also said hello to 486 new solar panels, installed across the athletic fields. Tomorrow we’ll hold our first-ever Solar-bration, a day of celebrating our commitment to renewable energy.   

This day has been a long time coming: In October 2016, Crystal Land met with Carbon Lighthouse, a company “on a mission to stop climate change by making it easy and profitable for building owners to eliminate carbon emissions caused by wasted energy.” Carbon Lighthouse congratulated us on fostering a culture of responsible behavior, such as turning off lights when not in use and urging our students to recycle and compost.  

To increase our sustainability initiatives, Carbon Lighthouse first suggested we replace all lightbulbs on campus with energy-efficient LEDs, a recommendation we enacted in 2017. They next examined our existing solar array, installed on the Pavilion and the K–5 Building. Those panels gave off a combined 115,000 kWh annually––a mere 17% of our electricity consumption. We knew we could do better.

What took three years? On top of the planning and budgeting, Sustainability Director Gene Vann explains one unforeseen roadblock: “We needed to connect the panels to the transformer to get onto the grid. The analogy of a plastic versus a metal straw is appropriate: We’d initially used plastic piping to serve as a conduit, boring under the athletic field, under the retaining wall, under the sidewalk, to come up to the fenced-in electrical panel.” The problem? The weight of the rubble crushed the plastic pipe, like molars to a straw. A metal pipe fixed the issue. Then began the lengthy process of applying for a Permit to Operate our solar panels from the City of Oakland. 

The hard work paid off: We now produce 330,000 kilowatt-hours (kWh) from the new hillside solar array (pictured above) in addition to the 115,000 kWh from our existing arrays, so “around 80% of our energy at Head-Royce comes from solar!” says Gene.
What does 445,000 kWh mean? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the sum of our energy output is equivalent to offsetting the greenhouse gas emissions of 66.8 cars driven for an entire year. Another way to think of it? It’s like we’ve recycled 13,730 bags of waste.

So what’s next? And how can we all think about sustainability, as a City, at School, and at home? 

In the City: Sustainability Council Co-Chairs Gene Vann and Nancy Feidelman have also attended Equitable Climate Action Plan (ECAP) meetings in Oakland. “E stands for Equitable not Energy,” explains Gene, “to consider the low income, often families of color, impacted by our changing climate.” As the City writes, “Those communities that have been harmed by environmental injustice and who are likely to be hurt first and worst by the impacts of climate change––will benefit first and foremost from climate action.

At School: Our Sustainability Council, comprised of Professional Community members, administrators, and students, meets regularly to discuss action plans and are working on the Green Ribbon Schools application. 

“A great goal to strive for?” asks Gene Vann. “We hope to have not only all of our own energy come from the panels, but to help power Oakland. Can we get to a point where we’re using our energy efficiently enough so that we can help power the grid?” 

At home: If you look at your PGE bill, you’ll see the words “East Bay Community Energy” written there. That’s because PGE doesn’t generate energy anymore--they simply transmit it from a variety of renewable sources. Oakland residents, by default, are assigned to the “Bright Choice” plan, energy from 38% renewable resources. 

“Families can opt into Brilliant 100 or Renewable 100,” says Gene Vann, “If they can stomach a 5% increase in their electricity bill.” The School has committed to the Renewable 100 level, consuming only 100% renewable energy.

Another idea from the Sustainability Council takes a closer look at your commute. If it makes sense for your family, by all means:

  • Walk

  • Bike

  • Carpool

  • Bus (Michaels or AC Transit)

Adding up the numbers, Gene Vann says, “If all 668 families (from 2018–2019) had driven to School, they would have covered 4,459 miles in total getting to school for ONE morning.” That’s cross-country and half-way back! “Alternate transportation––busing, carpooling, and biking–– removed 2,685 miles from our total commute mileage.”  

Throughout the school year, we will continue to research, read, and discuss sustainability initiatives. We welcome you to submit your ideas and feedback to  

Stay tuned for more updates from the Schoolwide Sustainability Council. 


Bird's Eye View is a story series highlighting our work towards the initiatives and goals laid out in our Strategic Plan: Bridge to 2022.