Solar Schools and How to Make Them

School Energy Consumption

Approximately 11% of energy consumption by U.S buildings and 4% of the country’s carbon emissions are contributed to educational institutions.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy , K-12 schools spend an estimated $6 billion or more on energy costs annually. For most districts, energy costs are second only to salaries. The higher education sector is estimated to spend over $14 billion a year in energy costs.

As per a study published by Environmental Research Letters, if schools utilized all available space for solar panels, they could reach up to 75% of their energy needs and reduce their carbon foot-print by 28%. With frequent innovations in solar technology it is possible that schools could meet 100% of their energy needs.

If schools have less than Ideal roofs for solar or not enough usable surface area, panels can be placed on shade structures in parking lots, playgrounds, and sports facilities.

The Solar Foundation is a non-partisan, non-profit that was founded in 1977. They are dedicated to advancing the worldwide use of solar power and solar technology. They are a great resource for information on various solar topics. According to the Solar Foundation’s third edition of their Brighter Future Study, completed in September 2020, their key findings are as follows:

There are now 7,332 K-12 schools using solar power nationwide, making up 5.5% of all K-12 public and private schools in the United States.

Since 2014, K-12 schools saw a 139% increase in the amount of solar installed. Today, 5.3 million students attend a school with solar.

79% of the solar installed on schools was financed by a third party, such as a solar developer. This allows schools and districts, regardless of the size of their budget, to purchase solar energy and receive immediate energy cost savings.

Solar-powered school districts can save significantly on energy costs over time. For example, Tucson Unified School District in Arizona expects to save $43 million over 20 years. In Arkansas, the Batesville School District used energy savings to become the highest-paying school district in the county with teachers receiving up to $9,000 per year in raises. 

The top five states for solar on schools are California, New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Indiana.

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Educational Opportunity

Solar schools offer a unique learning opportunity for their students. Solar Schools can offer a hands-on stem program for students using the data from the school’s solar panels. Students will be able to see the direct impact of solar technology in their community.

Savings Potential

Many schools across the United States have already benefited from investing in solar. With the savings solar brings to the school district, that money could go back into funding different programs, as well as offering better salaries to faculty.

Kern High School District invested in 22MW solar carport systems across 27 school sites and are estimated to save $80 Million over 25 years.

In Arkansas, teachers received up to $15,000 raises because of the savings the school district had through their solar investment.

Funding Options

Direct Ownership

Direct ownership means that the system is owned outright. You can utilize bonds, tax-exempt leases, grants, fundraising, cash on hand, or PACE programs to fund your solar project. Some states and local governments also offer funding options for school solar projects.

Third Party Financing

Most school solar projects are financed by a third-party solar developer. PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) are the most common third-party finance option. They offer schools access to solar benefits regardless of school resources and ensure school savings for years. Alternatively, Community PPA’s are also another option, but instead of a solar developer owning the system, local community members fund the system while also earning a return on their investment.

If you would like to know your school district’s solar options, Hirst Solar Consulting can build a custom presentation for your district school board outlining saving potential and funding options.