BLOG: Solar Energy Powering U.S. Schools
By Richard Payne, Managing Director, ReNew Petra
It’s September, and that means school is back in session. But how green are today’s schools? There are nearly 6,000 schools across the U.S. with solar installations, providing clean, renewable energy. But that’s only about five percent of all K-12 schools, meaning only about 4 million students receive their education in a solar powered facility. These schools have a total of 910 MW of solar installed capacity, generating 1.4 million MW hours. That’s enough to power 190,000 homes annually.
Beyond providing clean energy for schools, there are many other benefits to installing solar on campuses. For instance, they offset an estimated one million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 221,000 cars. Energy can be one of the top expenses for U.S. schools, costing upwards of $8 billion. By switching to solar, schools can save those funds and put them towards school supplies and teacher salaries. What’s more, installing these projects creates local jobs and sets an example for the rest of the community. It also gives the students at those schools the unique opportunity to learn more about solar technology and sustainability in general.
School solar adoption peaked in 2012 and 2013 as American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding was readily available for utility and nonprofit grant programs to launch projects like this. While these avenues for funding may be no longer available, the cost of installing solar has dropped more than 60 percent in the last decade, making it easier than ever to go green. Plus, there is an increasing desire to utilize solar, as many homes and corporations are turning to the sun to power their buildings.
While North Carolina is number two in the country for installed solar capacity, it is only ranked 24th for installed school capacity. As of 2017, 36 K-12 schools in North Carolina were solar powered, with a total of 1.3 MW capacity. In 2015, the North Carolina-based nonprofit NC GreenPower launched a pilot program to raise awareness about the renewable energy and help schools interested in solar gain funding. NC GreenPower also offers educational resources for teachers to maximize the benefit of the installation. Just this month, NC GreenPower announced that five new schools will have solar installed in the Tar Heel state, as well as weather stations, real-time monitoring equipment and STEM curriculum.
ReNew Petra is also doing its part to transition schools to renewable energy with a recent solar installation at the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in North Carolina. This 1 MW installation on the College’s campus will help fund the College’s foundation, providing scholarships to students, creating an outdoor classroom, and educating students about solar energy and the many job opportunities within the industry.
With so few schools taking advantage of renewable energy, the opportunity for expansion is huge. That’s where organizations like the Solar Foundation and SEIA come into play. Along with Generation 180, these organizations have put together a toolkit for schools to go solar. You can get a step-by-step guide on how to advocate for solar at your school. The Solar Schools Campaign Toolkit helps you get started, and is available here: https://generation180.org/pathways/solar-schools/