By the end of 2019, 7,332 U.S. schools had turned towards solar power, nearly double the number five years earlier. As a result, more than five million students across the U.S. now attend schools powered by solar energy.
With 1,365 MW of cumulative installed capacity, solar schools in the U.S. are now generating enough energy to power 254,030 U.S. homes.
Switching to solar has helped schools save on energy costs, reduced power outages, opened doors to clean energy, and provided job training in a fast-growing industry. At $8 billion a year, energy is the second largest expense for U.S. schools.
Some noteworthy examples of schools going solar include an Arkansas school district, which has used savings from its solar project to give teachers pay raises.
Interestingly, these schools are installing greater solar capacity, with solar production up 81% over the last five years. Over five million students now attend schools with solar installations – a 24% increase since 2017 and an 81% rise since 2014. In all, installed solar has increased by 139% in U.S. schools since 2014.
These findings were reported in the third edition of ‘Brighter Future- A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools’ published by the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and The Solar Foundation (TSF). The report analyzes the growth of schools going solar and shares insights into how and why they are doing it.
Solar schools now make up 5.5% of all public and private K-12 schools. The decision to go solar at public schools was taken at the district level, and 16% of K-12 school districts (2,231 in total) have embraced this technology.California leads the pack with one-third of the nation’s solar schools and 45% of the installed capacity, followed by New Jersey, Arizona.
In California, microgrids are employed to keep schools operating during rolling blackouts; meanwhile, in Puerto Rico, solar microgrids ensure that school refrigerators stay cold and that the food for the students stays fresh.
Incidentally, the third-largest district in Arizona would end up saving $43 million over 20 years from 73,000 solar panels. One of the highlights has been the Batesville School District in Arkansas, which used the energy savings to become the highest-paying school district in the county, with teachers receiving up to $9,000 per year in raises.
Roughly 79% of the schools resorted to third-party ownership to finance their solar installations. The states that allow third-party ownership account for 91% of the solar installed at schools nationwide.
In the power purchase agreement (PPA), the school district pays for the energy produced by the solar installation, usually at a rate lower than what the district paid the utility company for electricity. Schools are witnessing an immediate energy saving that typically increases over time as the utility’s electricity rates rise.
Around 88% of the solar projects under 15 kW were paid for with grants and donations. For solar energy systems over 15 kW, third-party ownership is the primary funding source, and its utilization increases with the size of the solar energy system. For systems over 50 kW in size, direct ownership through cash, loans, and bonds is the second-highest source of funding.
The remaining 22 states only account for 9% of the solar installed on schools. Lack of access to third-party financing is stifling solar development in almost half the country. Only 21% of the solar installed on schools is purchased, owned, and maintained by the schools under direct ownership.
Similar policies are also in the works in India, and the schools in the country could benefit immensely if they go solar. Currently, solar installations are more prevalent on college campuses.
Last year, the Utkarsh Society issued a tender to select service providers to install hybrid solar systems under the RESCO model in over 14,000 government schools across Haryana.
In August 2019, the Himachal Pradesh Energy Development Agency invited bids for solar projects at 312 middle schools located in 11 districts of Himachal Pradesh.
Image credit: SEIA
Rahul is a staff reporter at Mercom India. Before entering the world of renewables, Rahul was head of the Gujarat bureau for The Quint. He has also worked for DNA Ahmedabad and Ahmedabad Mirror. Hailing from a banking and finance background, Rahul has also worked for JP Morgan Chase and State Bank of India. More articles from Rahul Nair.