September 20, 2016
As the summertime approaches its end, schools are back in session and the academic year is in full swing. This fall, more than 50 million students in the US are memorizing their schedules and lugging their backpacks down the halls to start another year of learning—and only 2.7 million of these students are doing so at solar schools.
Although the US has seen a significant number of schools taking advantage of solar energy recently, there are tens of thousands more that could see significant cost benefits, among other things, by making the switch. With large, flat rooftops and enormous parking lots free of shade, schools are a critical resource for renewable energy for their communities. That being said, there are a number of ways that installing solar could be of value to schools themselves. Let’s take a look at what these advantages are.
Although most schools do not have the option of taking advantage of state and federal solar tax incentives as nonprofit entities, they can still benefit from these policies through on-site power purchase agreements (PPA). PPAs are contracts where solar energy companies finance, build, own, and maintain a system on the customer’s site and sell the solar electricity generated back to the organization at a reduced, fixed rate – usually at a significant discount compared to what the utility charges for electricity. This rate is offered over an extended period of time—typically 15 to 20 years. Under this model, the customer incurs no (or very low) upfront costs and saves money in the long term.
Under PPAs, the cost savings inherited by a school’s transition to solar are truly substantial. For example, Solect installed a 137 kilowatt solar energy system on the roof of the Albert H. Gordon Field House of Roxbury Latin school through a PPA agreement, and the school has projected savings of nearly $100,000 over the next 15 years. With the reduced and predictable electricity rates offered to schools through PPAs, it is common to see a considerable amount of money saved over the lifespan of the system—especially when solar schools are protected from unstable utility costs.
Using a source of renewable energy helps not only your individual school, but the contiguous neighborhood as well. Installing solar enables your school to run on clean energy while at the same time combatting greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. In addition, especially with an on-site solar installation, it reduces dependence on outsourced fossil fuels and promotes renewable energy use in the surrounding area.
Another long-term benefit of going solar is the knowledge students can gain from having this kind of innovation at their fingertips. Not only does a solar energy system encourage sustainable practices among the student body, but many schools with solar have gone as far as integrating the system into their learning curriculum through science and/or math classes. For example, the Roxbury Latin School’s solar system has been used in the school’s science curriculum. The school has added an interactive kiosk that provides data streaming access that students can assess to measure the output of the solar panels, fostering an enriching learning environment.
Many schools’ large, flat roofs are untapped resources for renewable energy and given the upsides—major potential cost savings, the opportunity for an educational tool for students and the chance to make a positive environmental impact—every American school should consider it.