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Schools are increasingly turning to solar as a pathway to embracing clean renewable energy.

Clean Power

It Starts With The Kids: Michigan Schools Part Of Trend To Save $$ With Solar Project

Schools are increasingly turning to solar as a pathway to embracing clean renewable energy.

A Flushing, Michigan, school district will soon be part of a solar project that is forecast to save the community $45,000 annually. The 1.1 megawatt solar project by Standard Solar, Inc. is a first-of-its-kind public-private solar project partnership in Michigan. A combination of roof or ground mounted arrays will offset nearly 100% of the district’s entire current electric loads.

community solar in NY

“Public-private partnerships are an ideal option for educational facilities and municipal governments looking to reduce their energy costs and be stewards of the environment,” said Daryl A. Pilon, M.E. at Standard Solar. “We are excited about this project and appreciate the great partnerships in place to make this project a reality for the school district.”

Standard Solar, Inc. is a solar energy company that specializes in developing and financing solar electric systems nationwide. It will design, build, finance, operate, and maintain solar arrays at all 7 schools within the district in Flushing, Michigan. The project is expected to be completed by fall 2018.

“The Board of Education and the administration take stewardship very seriously, whether it’s stewardship of taxpayer money or natural resources,” said Kelly Stearns, finance director for Flushing Community Schools. The $45,000 annual savings to the general fund, she noted, “can be spent in the classrooms. At the same time, our students will have the opportunity to learn about renewable energy, and to have a very up-close relationship with its productions, which enhances our STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs.”

Solar Projects in Schools Becoming More and More Popular

The more appealing cost of solar panels and financing options like those in the Flushing project made available by Standard Solar has made solar widely accessible. There are now over 5,000 schools across the US with solar installations, according to The Solar Foundation. The increased frequency of solar projects on school campuses is derived primarily from the financial benefits to  electric bills, educating students about clean energy, and ensuring a brighter future for the next generation.

Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools (2nd Edition)” is a report commissioned jointly by The Solar Foundation, Generation 180, and the Solar Energy Industries Association. Released in November 2017, it is the most comprehensive study to date on solar at K-12 schools nationwide.

solar project

Key findings include:

  • In a sign of the rapid growth of solar schools, 61% of the solar capacity in K-12 schools has been installed in the last five years.
  • Solar installations on schools have a combined capacity of 910 megawatts (MW) and produce an estimated 1.4 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity annually. That is equivalent to the amount of electricity needed to power over 190,000 homes.
  • The cumulative solar capacity of U.S. K-12 schools grew an impressive 86%, increasing from the 490 MW found in the 2014 Solar Foundation report.
  • Nationwide, 4.4% of schools have a solar installation. Nearly 3.9 million students attend one of these solar schools, meaning that 7.3% of U.S. students attend a school with solar.
  • California leads the nation in school solar adoption with over 489 MW installed, representing 54% of all US school solar PV capacity. New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York round out the top five, and combined with California, account for 87% of all K-12 school solar capacity installed.
  • Arizona ranks the highest in solar watts per student. It is followed by New Jersey, California, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
  • Nevada takes the top spot for percentage of schools with solar. Within Nevada, 23% of schools have installed solar.
  • In California and Hawaii, 14.5% of schools have solar.
  • Over the last 10 years, the average price of a school solar PV installation has dropped by 67%. That price trend includes a drop of 19% in 2016 alone.
  • Power purchase agreements have grown to become the primary financing method in school solar adoption, representing nearly 90% of all installed school solar systems for which data is available over the last three years.
  • The average school solar system size has grown from 100 kilowatts (kW) in 2010, to 200 kW in 2014, and 300 kW in 2017.

solar project

Why are Schools Going Solar?

Financial considerations are at the top of the list of why schools around the US are much more receptive to discussions about solar power. Suddenly, the return on investment (ROI) for solar development isn’t as pressing. Schools now have access to a broad set of solar financing options, including:

  • traditional debt financing such as loans and bonds
  • state financing programs designed to incentivize solar schools
  • third-party system ownership through power purchase agreements (PPAs)

A solar development installation that involves multiple district schools can take 1-2+ years from inception to completion if the system is intended to meet a significant portion of the school’s electricity needs. The timeline includes feasibility, funding, and procurement, which can take up to six months overall; a permitting and interconnection process (which can be unpredictable and sometimes frustrating); and several months to address regulatory requirements and performing other pre-development work.

Construction of a school solar project usually lasts no more than six months.

solar project

Schools are the centers of learning and inspiration for the next generation, so it makes sense that solar projects are becoming integrated into school campuses. Indeed, in several cases, it has been students who have led campaigns to bring solar to their schools. Solar schools offset an estimated 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from nearly 221,000 cars. Those numbers instill young people with pride as well as the chance to get up-close-and-personal with a clean renewable energy technology that is reshaping the energy industry.

When students can see a solar panel, examine an inverter, and understand a solar system on a comprehensive level, they gain personal understandings in renewable technologies. The hands-on exposure to solar also builds support for clean energy for future generations.

Final Thoughts

Many pathways exist for schools across the US to develop solar projects. Students can advocate for clean renewable energy. A pilot solar project can be built on a rooftop, parking canopy, or offsite. With options such as traditional debt like bonds and loans, third-party ownership, a capital improvement campaign, or a stand-alone project, financing for a solar project need not be as complex and challenging as it once was.

While there are still over 100,000 schools that continue to rely exclusively on fossil fuels, adopting solar energy presents a great opportunity for our nation’s educational institutions. The cost of solar panels continues to decline. Schools should take on leadership positions within the US transition to clean energy for the health of future generations.

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