Solar in Pennsylvania schools has doubled, according to a new report by Generation180. In another article, I interviewed the Pennsylvania Director of Generation180’s Solar for All Schools Program, Shannon Crooker.
In this article, I’m going to dive into the report, which you can also view here. The study covered solar in US schools and it revealed a lot of good things, including that K–12 schools in Pennsylvania more than doubled the total amount of solar that had installed over the last five years. The report also included a few success stories and provided a how-to guide for schools that are interested in going solar.
Highlights From The New Report
The new report, titled Brighter Future: A Study On Solar In U.S. Schools, goes over the state of solar in Pennsylvania schools, how schools are paying for the switch to solar, the benefits of solar for schools, three success stories, and opportunities for Pennsylvania schools.
State of Solar at Pennsylvania Schools
Using data cumulative through 2021 while including the state’s K–12 public, charter, and private schools, it found that there are fewer than 2% out of 6,500 schools with solar. However, 108 schools are using solar and have a combined installed solar capacity of 28,830 kW.
Out of over 1.7 million students, only 5% attend a school using solar power — this translates to 88,614 students attending a solar school. Despite these low numbers, the growth of solar at Pennsylvania schools is growing.
The report noted that the growth is over 2½ times in solar capacity in 4 years. And the 28.8 MW of installed solar capacity at Pennsylvania schools generates enough clean electricity each year to offset the greenhouse gas emissions that equal to taking 5,000 gas-powered vehicles off the road. According to the report:
“The amount of solar installed at PA schools doubled from 2020-2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
How Schools Are Able To Afford Solar
The report noted that access to funding is most likely the largest concern for any school district that wants to switch to solar. But there is some good news. In Generation180’s 2020 national study on solar in U.S. schools, it found that 79% of the cumulative solar capacity installed by U.S. schools was funded through third-party ownership.
This, according to the new study, is how Pennsylvania schools are funding their solar. The report discovered that for projects with available funding data, two-thirds or 66% of the cumulative solar capacity installed in Pennsylvania schools was based on the third-party ownership model.
Also, 74% of the solar capacity installed between 2020 and 2022 was financed through third-party ownership. During this period, the amount of solar installed in schools doubled. According to the report:
“The increased use of third-party ownership to finance solar projects at schools has enabled schools and school districts to enlarge their solar projects and reap more cost savings without having to make an upfront capital investment.”
The report also looked at both state and federal grants for solar at schools. Over the past ten years, state grants were available for developing projects through several state organizations, such as the Department of Community and Economic Development. However, at the time that report was published, there were no state grants to fund clean energy projects at schools.
On the federal side, many schools nationwide were able to use funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for solar installation. And just this year, the Biden–Harris Action Plan for Building Better School Infrastructure was announced. The administration launched a $500 million grant program and plans to distribute funding through competitive grants offered by the U.S. Department of Energy over a five-year period until the funds run out.
The report also looked at Title 1 schools and the distribution of solar schools by Title 1 eligibility. Title 1 schools are schools that receive financial assistance from Title 1 Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These schools have high percentages of students from low-income families.
Benefits of Solar for Pennsylvania Schools
The report shared the key benefits that Pennsylvania schools with solar were enjoying. These include:
- Energy cost savings.
- Energy independence and resilience.
- Training for energy careers.
- Training for agriculture careers.
- Student leadership and civic engagement.
- Hands-on STEM learning.
- Healthier people and planet.
The report included several success stories that I’ll quickly go over. These case studies share the stories of Midd-West School District, School District of Philadelphia, and Woodland Hills School District.
Midd-West School District
Serving 2,100 students at four schools, the Midd-West district installed a total of 2.56 MW of solar power capacity. This is currently the largest solar installation at a K-12 school in Pennsylvania. The district is planning to add more solar panels to offset 110% of its electricity use with solar while also generating additional revenue by selling excess energy back to the grid.
According to the report, the current 2.6 MW solar installation is estimated to save the school district over $9 million over the course of the 40-year life expectancy of the solar panels.
School District of Philadelphia
For students in the Philadelphia school district, job training is available to help them prepare for careers in solar. The report noted that the state has been ranked as a top state for solar employment growth since 2015. Philadelphia Energy Authority is addressing the challenge of developing a new generation of diverse solar workers. Its program, the Bright Solar Futures program, was launched in the fall of 2020.
Students in grades 10–12 can enter the three-year CET program, which was funded by a $1.25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. It introduces students to working in the solar industry — from sales and design to installation.
Woodland Hills School District
This region has a long history of coal and natural gas production, yet students in this school district are aiming to transform Pittsburgh into a clean energy city. The report noted that the student-led climate movement has been supported by area nonprofit Communitopia, which aims to provide transformative climate change education that develops youth leaders while advancing solutions in environmental justice communities.
In conclusion, the report provides refreshing feedback for solar and schools and I think any school district in the nation that’s considering making the switch to solar will benefit from reading the full report. You can read it here.
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