Renewables, Solar

U.S. Schools Saving Money, Helping Environment by Going Solar

Issue 11 and Volume 118.

alt   By Rhone Resch, president and CEO, solar energy industries association

The report card is in and thousands of U.S. schools are bringing home straight A’s.

In a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind new study, America’s K-12 schools have shown explosive growth in their use of solar energy over the last decade, soaring from 303 kilowatts (kW) of installed capacity to 457,000 kW, while reducing carbon emissions by 442,799 metric tons annually – the equivalent of saving 50 million gallons of gasoline a year or taking nearly 100,000 cars off U.S. highways.

Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools was prepared by The Solar Foundation (TSF) – with data and analysis support from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – and funded through a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program.

The Solar Foundation’s report is the first nationwide assessment of how solar energy helps to power schools in communities across America. Most importantly, the report shows that thousands of schools are already cutting their utility bills by choosing solar, using the savings to pay for teacher salaries and textbooks. What’s more, the report estimates that more than 70,000 additional schools would benefit by doing the same.

Here are the report’s key findings:

  • There are 3,752 K-12 schools in the United States with solar installations, benefitting nearly 3 million students.
  • Today, America’s K-12 schools have a combined capacity of 490 MW, generating 642,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year.
  • Of the 125,000 schools in the country, as many as 72,000 could “go solar” cost-effectively.

If you think that’s good news, then get a load of this: An analysis performed for this report found that 450 individual school districts could each save more than $1,000,000 over 30 years by installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system. New York City alone, according to the report, could save $209 million.

In a time of tight budgets and rising costs, solar can be the difference between hiring new teachers or laying them off. Just as importantly, solar is also helping to fight pollution.

The new report also found:

  • More than 3,000 of the 3,752 systems were installed in the last six years. Between 2008 and 2012, solar installations on U.S. schools experienced a compound annual growth rate of 110 percent.
  • Nearly half of the systems currently installed are larger than 50 kW and 55 schools have systems that are 1 MW or larger. About a quarter of the PV systems at schools are smaller than 5 kW.
  • As schools system sizes increase, so too does the incidence of third-party ownership.
  • Excluding small demonstration systems, the median system size of K-12 school PV systems was found to be 89 kW (approximately equal to 18 average residential solar PV systems).

As is the case with the solar industry at large, the report found that more schools are going solar as installation costs decrease. According to the SEIA/GTM Research U.S. Solar Market Insight report, national blended average system prices have dropped 53 percent since 2010.

The movement of schools to go solar is certainly part of a larger trend. According to industry forecasts, the United States is expected to install an estimated 7.4 gigawatts (GW) of solar this year – a 42 percent increase over 2013 – making it the best year ever for solar installations in America. What’s more, solar accounted for a record 53 percent of all new electric generation capacity installed in the first half of 2014, pushing solar to the front as the fastest-growing source of renewable energy in America.

Today, the U.S. solar market segments include utility scale PV (48 percent); utility scale concentrating solar power, also known as CSP (9 percent); non-residential PV (26 percent); and residential PV (17 percent). All totaled, there are an estimated 650,000 installed solar energy systems in the United States, including systems on more than half a million homes.

To put that into some perspective, the U.S. now has an estimated 20.2 GW of installed solar capacity, enough to effectively power nearly 4 million homes in the country – or every single home in a state the size of Massachusetts or New Jersey – with another 20 GW under contract for 2015-16.

So anyway you look at it – from saving money to helping the environment – more and more U.S. schools, businesses and homes are seeing the benefits of going solar.

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