- Solar panels on school and university rooftops can result in significant energy savings — as much as 75% of a school’s or institution’s current electricity consumption — and improve health by reducing pollutants in the air, according to a new study appearing in Environmental Research Letters.
- Calculating costs and benefits on a sample of more than 132,000 schools and almost 7,100 higher education institutions, the authors write that solar projects are not “economically viable” for most schools and universities. But a “third-party ownership” model, in which schools purchase solar from companies that own and operate the system, can make switching to solar more feasible.
- California, Texas and Florida would likely save the most money on electricity, while Midwest states with “high-polluting technologies,” such as Wisconsin and Ohio, would likely see the greatest health and environmental benefits, the authors write.
With energy costs often second only to the amount districts spend on compensation, education leaders are likely looking for additional ways to cut expenses — especially when teachers are making demands for higher salaries and other benefits, including smaller class sizes and more wraparound services, loud and clear.
The authors, from the Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, also list other options for increasing solar in the education sector, such as purchasing renewable energy credits and rewarding schools for reducing emissions. Several foundations have also supported solar installations at schools.
School solar programs also create STEM-related learning opportunities for students, such as learning how to track energy data and understanding how weather and the angle of the sun affects the panels. In other cases, solar-school partnerships are giving students skills that could lead to future careers. For example, Solar Futures, run by GRID Alternatives, brings solar power and job training programs to low-income communities. In one example, the nonprofit is working in partnership with schools run by the Bishop Paiute Tribe in Bishop, California, to offer internships to recent high school graduates.