With solar being a popular choice for those looking to save on their energy costs, it’s no surprise that schools are taking advantage of it as well. Furthermore, many more schools could save money by going solar.
For those interested, bounding off of The Solar Foundation’s report on solar schools Inovateus Solar has a sweet guide for how your local K-12 schools can go solar. The benefits of going solar include potentially thousands of dollars saved on electricity costs, cleaner air, and school boards across the nation leading by example for their young. Solar panels can also provide a great teaching opportunity by encouraging students to get involved with real-world STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) projects.
The cost of your school’s electricity depends on many factors. Solar usually offsets between 60% and 85% of the electric load. According to Inovateus Solar, most schools with 1,000 students could save $20,000 to $28,000 annually. The larger the school, the bigger the savings. Another factor that impacts savings is sun hours. These are, as you may presume, the number of hours in a year when the solar panels should be exposed to the sun. Energy consumption is another important factor, especially during the summer months. A more energy efficient school requires less power, allowing the solar panels to cover a bigger portion of the school’s energy needs. Type of financing is important as well.
Schools that are nonprofits don’t qualify for the federal government’s solar tax credits or other tax incentives. Therefore, many school projects are financed through a power purchase agreement (PPA), which allows them to utilize state and federal tax benefits through a solar PPA financing company.
In this fashion, the financier owns and manages the solar system and allows the school to benefit. The financier covers the cost for the entire design and installation, and often doesn’t put any upfront costs on the schools. The PPA company gets a long contract (20 or 25 years, for example) to sell electricity to the school, normally at a lower price than the school pays the regional utility company.
Another way that schools can switch to solar is through municipal bonds or capital improvement budgets. The school should be prepared to fund any upfront costs along with 20–25 years of maintenance in such cases.
The first thing a school should do is connect with an experienced school solar developer or contractor to learn more about the varieties of solar projects and financing available. These experts can give estimates of energy cost savings based on the school’s previous energy consumption. Inovateous notes that the following questions will typically be asked by the installer:
- What is the best location for the solar array? Does the school have enough land available?
- If a school roof will be considered, what is the status of the roof warranty? Is the roof structurally able to hold the weight of a solar system?
- Will the school’s electrical infrastructure require upgrades?
- How does the school want to incorporate a learning curriculum with the solar array?
One major benefit of a school solar power system is it provides a big opportunity for real-world, hands-on STEM education. Further, solar industries offer well paying jobs and a large variety of career options.