In Pennsylvania, schools are embracing solar and powering a brighter future, according to a new report by Generation180. Pennsylvania is a leader in the overall energy sector — second behind Texas for total energy production and electricity generation. Serving almost 2 million students, Pennsylvania also has one of the largest school systems in the nation. As of now, though, only 5% of students attend a school with a solar energy system.
Despite this, solar is being embraced, especially by the state’s K-12 schools. The report found that solar on the schools has actually doubled since 2020. Shannon Crooker, Pennsylvania Director for Generation180’s Solar for All Schools Program, took the time to share some details about the program with me as well as some key points from the report.
Interview With Shannon Crooker, Pennsylvania Director for the Generation180 Solar for All Schools Program
Solar For All Schools Program
First, I asked Shannon to tell me about the Solar For All Schools Program. She told me that it’s a really great program, and that she was excited about being a part of Generation180.
“It’s critical for our schools to be part of the transition to a clean energy economy. Schools are where our children are raised, and developed and grown to become future leaders of tomorrow. So they need to understand how energy plays a role in the transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy sources.
“Solar provides an opportunity for them to get hands-on STEM learning and hands-on job training. It’s great for the economy, good for their school from a cost-savings standpoint, and it allows schools to focus on what matters, which is the students’ education. So, it’s really a win-win-win, because it works for the environment as well.”
Open To All Schools Nationwide
The program is open to all schools nationwide, and Virginia is home of the second campaign. Shannon told me that Generation180 is also conducting another analysis that will be released later this fall.
“Generation180 focuses on schools nationwide, and we’re actually conducting an analysis right now which will be released in the fall for the nationwide report. The last time that we did one was in 2020. So we started with a nationwide focus. We’re based in Charlottesville, so we’re able to get a really good push in Virginia.
“And then through teaming up with FedEx, who has their ground headquarters in Pittsburgh, we decided that it would be a really great opportunity to start a campaign in Pennsylvania. And it was also a really good state because of the potential. We knew that there were some obstacles and some educational advocacy awareness that needs to be around schools to help push the movement forward. So here we are launching our first campaign in Virginia, and I’m really excited to be a part of that.
“We’re known as a fossil fuel state, and it would be nice if the schools could help become part of the transition.”
For schools interested in learning about the program and joining it, Shannon emphasized that Generation180 is here to advocate and promote solar for schools.
“We can help them understand the benefits, and then we can connect them with other school leaders through our clean energy leaders network to help them understand. We have partners such as EnergySage and we’re developing a partnership with the local nonprofit as well that can conduct a feasibility study.
“They really just want to help them understand some of the obstacles — if they even make sense to them — so would just help pull all the pieces together and connect them to the right people, because we found that school districts and most other industries as well like to learn and hear from their peers. If someone else has gone through it, they’ll trust them more, so really like to be that hub.”
This, Shannon explained, is why they share the success stories. The success stories are inspiring and make it easier to take the next step forward.
Schools Can Help Prepare High School Students For Careers With Solar & Energy
The new report by Generation180 pointed out that schools are helping students in high school with job training for careers with solar and energy. Shannon shared some of the examples.
“We could take the Commonwealth Charter Academy, which is a public-private school, and what they do is they analyze their data in real-time to understand how the weather may impact — like the cloud coverage and everything — may impact the solar production.
“And then they’re able to keep track of how it powers their aquaponics lab. They do STEM research as well, so they are using that as a way to power that, and it’s completely no waste, which is part of their mission for the lab. They’re just able to expand their data analysis because they’re really looking at the energy consumption and how it’s being used.
“And then we have Philadelphia, whose doing hands-on — they’re actually installing, they’re understanding how it’s connected to the inverters as well as the battery storage. So, they go from project consumption all the way to installation. So, they’re learning both cells as well as installation design. And they’re getting up on roofs seeing if they’re comfortable to get on the roofs because that’s sometimes something that is a surprise to students. Like, can I really handle being up on top of a roof?
“And one thing that’s really beautiful about this program at Philadelphia is that it was grant-funded by the DOE, and Philadelphia Energy Authority is partnering and want to make this a nationwide accessible program. So, hopefully soon they’re going to launch and more schools will be able to adopt this kind of vocational training.”
Shannon pointed out that many of the contractor jobs are hurting and are in need of people. Having high schools get students ready for these types of jobs gives students an option. Students can either go to college to pursue topics such as engineering or they can work in the field right away. Either way, it enables them to have an informed decision.
She also added that in Philadelphia, students can take a paid summer internship which provides hands-on training and gives them job experience.
Key Takeaway From The New Report
Solar On Schools Has Doubled Since 2020
I asked Shannon what key takeaway from the new report she felt was important and that more people should be aware of.
“Solar is catching on. It’s doubled in the last two years, in which a lot of us were kind of surprised — with Covid and the tight budgets. A lot of contracts were canceled because of Covid. But, no, here in Pennsylvania it doubled. I’m really hoping that in the fall, we’re going to see that nationwide.
“But solar is most definitely accessible, and it’s accessible to school districts whether they are from a lower income community or a wealthier community. We found that Title 1 schools which are based on a percentage of lower-income students or from their families were still able — almost two-thirds were Title 1 schools. So it’s really a costs savings benefits and it helps enhance learning. So it’s a win-win for school districts.”
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