According to a study conducted by SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) in conjunction with 450 school districts across the country, the average energy savings per district over thirty years by installing a solar PV system equates to more than $1,000,000. Going green is more than a global environmental movement, it’s a legitimate opportunity to reduce energy costs at your district in an impactful way. We take a closer look at how school districts are embracing clean energy and some resources to learn more.
Reducing Your District’s Carbon Footprint
According to the SierraClub.org, the square footage of the buildings and land managed by school districts amounts to half the square footage of commercial office buildings across the country. That is a massive amount of energy that is being consumed. If all K-12 public schools converted to 100% clean energy, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 in 7 cars off the road or shutting down 18 coal plants. According to the same SEIA study, the system size for an average solar PV system at a school building is 89 kW. That system will produce approximately 117,000 kWh of electricity in the first year, which translates to more than 80 tons of annual avoided CO2 emissions. This equates to 9,000 gallons of gasoline or 66 acres of forests. Again, that’s just for one school building. School buildings are also ideal candidates for solar energy because of their large, flat roofs which makes mounting a solar array easy and substantial. Districts also use parking lot canopies with solar panels installed on the tops of them, again taking advantage of the space around the building. As a facilities professional in your district, pushing for green energy updates at your buildings will widely be seen as a positive initiative in your community and will help push the mission statement of your schools for providing healthy spaces to learn. While you may see these efforts through a cost-savings lens, others will see it as a positive change to help the environment. Both are correct and, in the end, you have a good chance to get buy in.
School districts that have moved to green energy solutions for their buildings – whether it’s solar or wind – often find a way to incorporate the projects into their district’s STEM programs, allowing the opportunity for students to learn more about the energy sources that will power the future. The SEIA report references a school district in Utah that embarked on a renewable energy project that would provide 20% of the total electricity to their campus. They involved engineering and technology students who applied for energy grants and ultimately secured 100% of the funding through a school led project. They also learned about the technology and hardware and had opportunities to research solar pV systems. With STEM/STEAM programs growing in popularity and budget, there are great opportunities and creative ways to involve students in renewable energy products, which increases the appetite for districts to make these investments.
As we referenced in the beginning, cost savings are very real when converting to renewable, green energy. Solar systems are not just for Sun Belt states anymore. The SEIA report references a small school district in Massachusetts, with just over 1,000 enrolled students, that installed a 39.6kW system at their high school building. In their first three years, they saved over $16,500 which helped them avoid cuts to school programs and teacher salaries. As districts face tough budget decisions, investing in green renewable energy actually gives schools money back. And with private and public grants available, the up-front investment for installation can be mitigated.
The Honor Roll
If you haven’t started investing in green energy initiatives, chances are you don’t have to look too far geographically to find a district that has. According to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council, as of 2020 there are over 7,300 schools across the country with solar installations. The link to their website includes a very cool interactive map that shows the number of school districts by state that have solar installations. Check it out and see how your state stacks ups.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently released a list of the top 30 green powered school districts in the US. The list contains schools from across the country and is another real-world example of school districts that have seen tremendous benefits from their green initiatives. To learn more about going green for your school district, click any of the links in this blog post. There are many places to begin researching this initiative and the benefits of going green have proven to be beneficial to school budgets, student learning opportunities and the environment.