New Energy CLASS Prize Supports School Upgrades

Prize Aims To Build Sustainability Knowledge and Capacity Within Local Education Agencies

Feb. 15, 2023 | By Tiffany Plate | Contact media relations

An illustration of teachers, workers, and children in front of a school building.
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 of reach.

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 (LEAs).

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.

Prize Structure

Prize Timeline

Phase 1 submissions due: February 28, 2023
Winners announced: April 2023

Phase 2 open: May 1, 2023–May 1, 2024
Final winner announcement: July 2024

Competitor Resources

Official Rules

Informational Webinar Recording


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 the program.

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 Program Office.

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.

Tags: Buildings