Around the country, officials have implemented stay-at-home orders and public-gathering restrictions that have impacted everyday life for just about everyone.
In schools, these orders shifted in-person classes to e-learning programs for students. In addition, many districts now face new economic uncertainties with which officials must contend. Budget shortfalls caused by the pandemic-driven economic downturn mean that schools must now grapple with how to find new opportunities for savings.
It’s no secret that schools can reap big benefits from going solar. A new report from The Solar Foundation, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), and the clean energy nonprofit Generation180, highlights the growth solar has experienced at schools.
The report found that during the past five years, solar installations in K-12 schools have increased by a staggering 139 percent. Currently, 7,332 schools with more than 5 million students use solar power, representing 5.5 percent of all K-12 public and private schools nationwide.
The main driver of this growth in solar comes from significant savings in energy bills during the life of the PV system or purchase agreement.
Third-party financing a boon for solar in schools
The report noted that third parties financed 79 percent of solar installations at schools. In the vast majority of these arrangements, schools entered into a power purchase agreement (PPA) with the third party. This means in most instances, the schools were able to immediately reap the rewards of a lowered electricity rate without having to worry about any upfront costs.
For now, only 28 states and Washington, D.C. currently allow for third-party financing for solar. But, in the states where third-party agreements are allowed, they accounted for 91 percent of the solar installed at schools.
The report also provided some inspiring examples of how schools have benefited from solar in other ways.
By using the money saved through their PV systems, the Batesville School District in Arkansas was able to re-allocate resources to employee salaries. On average, teachers received $2,000-$3,000 in annual raises, with long-term teachers receiving up to $9,000, making it the highest-paying school district in the county.
In the Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), more than 80 schools use solar energy. With no upfront costs required, the school projects up to $43 million in energy savings over 20 years and a reduction of carbon emissions by 38.7 million pounds per year.
What kind of PV system works best with schools?
Schools make an ideal location for a PV system of nearly any type, since most campuses will have a diversity of options from which to choose.
Roof mount solar installations work for schools that have ample roof space, either on one big building or spread across several structures.
If the roof doesn’t work, then chances are the school has plenty of open space to house a ground mount solar installation. Ground mount solar installations can also come with a single-axis or dual-axis tracker to follow the sun throughout the day and boost the system’s energy gains.
The parking lots at schools can be a great place to erect a solar canopy. This can also provide shade to the vehicles in the lot, which the students and faculty will certainly appreciate on hot summer days.
In recent years, many schools have turned to off-campus solar PV installations. These operate as community solar projects, which enables those without available land or rooftop space to benefit from PV systems. For example, more than 25 school districts in Minnesota participate in community solar projects. Some serve as a host that earns revenue from leasing the land, and some are customers who purchase energy from a local community solar farm.
How Trina’s C&I Solutions can help
As schools around the country seek ways to shore up their budgets during these turbulent times, going solar can make a lot of fiscal sense. The Trina Solar C&I Solutions team knows what it takes to complete a school-oriented solar project on-time and on-budget.
Reach out today to learn more about how Trina Solar’s C&I Solutions helps project developers and EPCs deliver solar to schools.
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