Creating a Brighter Future for our Children with Solar

Putting solar on schools bring benefits beyond cost savings and carbon reduction – it shows the next generation that solar is a solution that can be implemented now.

At last week’s California Association of School Business Officers annual conference, it was clear how far schools have come in adopting solar compared to when I started working with them 4 years ago. Many of them had implemented solar and were looking at adding more solar or adding energy storage. Most of the others just needed to figure out how to make it work given financial and site constraints.

But, are we really doing as well as we think in getting solar on schools?

The Solar Foundation, Generation 180 and SEIA recently took this question on (for the second time) with its latest Brighter Futures report. Turns out that we are doing well over all – but we’re doing really well in key markets, such as California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and New Jersey. Nearly 5,500 schools nationwide have solar installed.

Newport Mesa USD carport solar project

While the market is constantly changing, the study illustrates the many advantages of going solar while sharing lessons learned from schools that are already benefitting from solar energy. In fact, schools across the nation have installed a total capacity of 910 megawatts (MW) (through Q3 2017). That means that by now we’re probably close to breaking the 1 gigawatt mark!

It’s clear from reading the study that school administrators and board members are leading the way to bringing cleaner, more sustainable, and less expensive energy to their communities. The process can take time but their persistence has paved the way for solar, as was the case for Aragon High School’s Jason Bode. As a student he created an environmental club, recruited faculty, students, and welcomed a future school board member to join. Jason started the movement to go solar for Aragon and returned from college to speak at the ribbon cutting for their solar and energy retrofit project.

Often the process of adding another capital project to a school’s list of “to do’s” may seem daunting but the process to go solar really has never been simpler. Experienced developers will often do feasibility studies, provide options on financing, inform customers of the current benefits and/or changes with utility rates, and recommendations as to the best overall project for the district.

Each state has their own solar policies/incentives (see California’s here), regulations and requirements to navigate, but leading developers have policy teams that are intimately aware of current policies and upcoming changes.

Then there’s the requirements of the Division of the State Architect to take into account for rooftop solar systems, which will typically incur longer project time lines and sometime higher costs compared to a carport project. 90% of installed school projects in California were carports due to the reduced approval time and ease of DSA pre-check carports. Carport installations still deliver good economic savings, further driving schools to consider putting solar on their parking lots. For more on carport installations in California – take a look at our carport overview guide.

The benefits of solar on schools continues to expand. Especially now with costs dropping by 19% in the last year, improved economies of scale, and diversity of financing options. Schools can and should take advantage of solar to reap the benefits that will pay dividends for years to come.


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