School districts across America are beginning to see the light, as they realize the potential of solar energy. From providing learning opportunities for students to safeguarding teachers’ jobs, solar is proving to be a valuable addition to any school district.
Prepared by The Solar Foundation with data from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the first nationwide study was conducted to evaluate how solar energy is impacting schools across America. The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative, reveals that solar installations among U.S. schools have grown 110% year-over-year from 2008 to 2012.
Benefits of Schools Going Solar
Solar installations on school campuses can protect districts against rising electricity prices, and generate savings that can be used to preserve programs like art and music – curriculums that are often the first to go in the face of budget cuts. “Perhaps most importantly, solar installations on schools can provide teachers with a unique opportunity to teach concepts in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and pique student interest in these critical subjects,” say study researchers.
Schools are major energy consumers, thanks to heating and air conditioning that run during peak hours and the massive amounts of electricity it takes to operate the classrooms and cafeteria.
As of September, there are 3,727 solar PV systems in schools throughout America – representing $77.8 million in annual utility bill savings. This translates to an annual average of nearly $21,000 per school; enough to fund 2,200 new teachers’ salaries, according to The Solar Foundation.
Solar Schools in Massachusetts
Massachusetts is ranked fourth in the U.S. in terms of installed solar capacity. With 237 megawatts (MW) of solar installed during 2013, that’s enough to power more than 38,500 homes.
The Bay State also earned the #4 spot in the nation as far as solar school capacity. There are currently 181 schools in Massachusetts with on-site solar electric systems, for a total PV capacity of 25,400 kilowatts (kW). “Solar is enabling many Massachusetts schools to save money, enrich learning and keep teachers in the classroom – all while providing local jobs and generating emissions-free electricity,” said Andrea Luecke, President and Executive Director of The Solar Foundation.
Drury High School is just one example of solar energy’s success.
In North Adams, Mass., Drury High School has 41 kW of solar electric capacity, funded through $400,000 in federal and state grants. Throughout its two years in operation, the school has offset almost 140,000 pounds of CO2 emissions; incorporated solar into a pre-engineering curriculum, and saved enough money to “preserve its current teaching staff and academic programs,” reveals the solar schools study. More impressively, Drury High School is using the money saved to create a summer program where students will make recommendations to a local homeless shelter on how to reduce its electricity usage and costs, following an energy audit.
Taking into account the flat rooftops and ample parking lots of schools across America, The Solar Foundation concluded that there are 72,000 schools in the U.S. that could go solar in a cost-efficient manner. And, if these schools installed an average-sized system, the total PV capacity on K-12 schools would reach 5.4 gigawatts (GW)—that’s equal to more than one-third of all the solar PV capacity currently installed in America!
In The Bay State alone, the untapped potential of school solar installations is enormous. “An analysis performed for this report found that seven school districts across Massachusetts could each save more than $1 million over 30 years by installing a solar PV system,” SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch said in a statement. “In fact, Worcester and Springfield could each save nearly $2 million and Brockton about $1.5 million. That’s a huge amount of money.”
Resch acknowledged that many schools are facing hard times, and solar can offer some relief. “ In a time of tight budgets and rising costs, solar can be the difference between hiring new teachers—or laying them off,” he said.