Approximately 5,489 K-12 schools in the US now have solar power installations, according to a report created by the Solar Foundation titled Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools, 2nd Edition. (This report is somewhat dated now, so it is likely there are even more schools with solar.) The total capacity of all the school installations is 910 megawatts, which produces enough electricity each year to power about 190,000 homes. With 1,946 solar schools and 489 megawatts of capacity, California is the national leader in school solar power.
One of the driving factors for greater solar adoption is the fact that the cost of solar power installations at schools has decreased about 60% in the last seven years. Now that solar power is at its most affordable, schools that have gone solar are saving money on their utility bills and have a backup source of electricity in case of outages. Schools with backup electricity supplies are safer because they can continue to use their lights and other electronics during temporary disruptions caused by problems with utility lines or severe weather.
It isn’t only individual schools which are working with solar power though, in some cases entire school districts are doing so, as we see with this summary from the report, “Washoe County School District, Reno, Nevada — The school district is well on its way to a 20% renewable energy goal by 2020. About 12% of the district’s energy consumption comes from 39 installations across 35 schools with a total capacity of 4.2 MW.”
Another one contains a huge estimated savings figure, “Kern High School District, Bakersfield, California — This 22 MW, privately financed project includes solar parking canopies on 27 district sites. The differential between the lower PPA rate and the higher utility rate is estimated to save the district $80 million over 25 years.”
If a school district could save $80 million in 25 years, imagine how well this amount of money would be applied to helping students and teachers. Many schools are cash-strapped and resource-poor so any savings would help them operate more robustly.
Another benefit to having solar on school roofs is that the students can easily see them. They are the tangible practice of using sustainable energy, not merely reading about solar power or listening to lectures from teachers. A school superintendent in Virginia, Peter Gretz, explained “We felt it was important work for our kids, and we wanted them to see the community leading in a way that was responsible and sustainable, as well as fiscally responsible and efficient.”
Even with over 5,000 solar schools, the total percentage of all American schools with solar power is only 5%. Though there has been much progress made with more schools going solar, there are still tens of thousands left to go this direction. It appears they will mainly because of solar’s affordability, but also because they have an unused, free resource which is solar friendly. Many, if not all schools have empty flat roof space which is very well-suited for solar power installations. So, they already have one of the key requirements, meaning no new construction or land is needed.
“There’s a reason solar is spreading so quickly across America’s school districts, and it’s pretty simple—when schools go solar, the entire community benefits,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO.
An NREL report on solar power schools succinctly stated the benefits, “Solar energy systems installed on public schools have a number of benefits that include utility bill savings, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and other toxic air contaminants, job creation, demonstrating environmental leadership, and creating learning opportunities for students. In the 2011 economic environment, the ability to generate general-fund savings as a result of reducing utility bills has become a primary motivator for school districts trying to cut costs.”
The children, tweens, and teens who attend the solar schools can see renewable energy in action and have a practical, concrete example of the value of STEM endeavors. Being able to experience it without all the politics and FUD means they get unbiased knowledge. Children and youth need to be future-facing to be competitive in the global markets when they reach adulthood and the working world — fossil fuels are already outdated.
Image Credit: AleSpa, Wikipedia, CC By SA 3.0
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