Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools
By the Solar Energy Industries Association,
The Solar Foundation and Generation 180
There are approximately 5,500 schools across the country with solar installations that are saving money on electric bills, educating students about clean energy, and ensuring a brighter future for the next generation. A dramatic decline in the cost of solar panels combined with new financing options has now made solar widely accessible, creating tremendous untapped potential among the majority of our nation’s schools still without solar.
The Solar Energy Industries Association, along with partners at The Solar Foundation and Generation 180, have developed Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools, a comprehensive report that explores the current state of solar deployment on K-12 schools nationwide. The report includes analysis and case studies. Download the Infographic & Full Report here.
Our state is ranked among those in the nation with the greatest energy potential from solar power, according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Sun Index. The costs of installing solar systems have plummeted in recent years, while solar panels have become even more efficient. There has never been a better time for Nebraska schools to go solar. Essentially, schools and places like schools, such as zoos, and science and nature centers, have three options:
Energy Education: One way is to integrate renewable energy lessons, projects, and activities into your yearly curriculum planning. You’ll find plenty of cross-discipline resources on this website and others. Depending on your school’s goals and available funds, there are two additional ways to go solar, briefly described below.
Small Demonstration Solar Project: This is a solar system, usually photovoltaic (PV), installed for educational purposes only. Although it offsets a small amount of a school’s energy use, its primary purpose is to provide students with opportunities to learn about solar energy generation firsthand and to integrate curriculum specifically geared toward schools with photovoltaic systems.
Energy-Offsetting Solar Systems: These are larger photovoltaic systems installed on a school building’s roof, grounds, or parking lot for the purpose of reducing energy usage and saving money over the lifetime of the solar panels. These also, of course, provide the same educational benefits as a smaller solar project.
Why Should My School Go Solar?
- Schools across the country are partnering with community groups, utilities, government agencies, community colleges and universities, solar energy experts, businesses and corporations to install roof-, ground- or pole-mounted PV systems. With a PV system at their schools, students have the opportunity to learn, firsthand, how solar energy works and the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency. Internet-connected PV systems can be incorporated into the schools’ science, engineering, technology and math (STEM) programs. Including renewable energy projects and activities is a fun way to enrich your science curricula.
- The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) predicts that the growing demand for solar energy in all 50 states will create a great number of green-collar jobs in the near future. Installing a solar PV system and integrating solar energy education into a school’s curricula help to educate students about the diverse jobs available in the solar industry today.
- Finally, solar schools set an example for local communities. The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) states that, “…bringing solar to schools is an important first step to increasing the use of solar energy in the community at large. Schools make an excellent showcase for the benefits of solar photovoltaic electricity, solar thermal energy, and passive solar. Changes and improvements at schools are highly visible and closely followed. As has been the case with recycling programs, which were introduced to many communities by schoolchildren educating their parents, students can carry good ideas from the classroom into the mainstream.” The following toolkit is an excellent resource to help you get started.
Let’s Go Solar! A How-to Guide for Schools
By The Solar Foundation, 180 Generation, and the
Solar Energy Industries Association
Introduction: Going solar provides many benefits to schools and communities, including reduced energy costs, job creation, educational opportunities for students and a cleaner environment. Generation 180’s Solar Schools campaign is empowering schools nationwide to go solar with greater confidence and success by equipping community members with resources, training, and tools.
The School Toolkit shows how schools in your community can transition to solar energy
- Step-by-step advice on the process
- Resources to assess feasibility and financing
- Tips for success
Download the Toolkit here.
EXAMPLES OF SOLAR PROJECTS
Burke High School Solar Project
The solar system was installed on the back, south-facing side of the school garden’s toolshed. The system is the Grape Solar 100-Watt Basic Off-Grid Solar Panel Kit ordered from Home Depot. It serves a practical as well as an educational purpose, providing a power source for garden tools and electronic devices.
Approximate Cost of the Project: $300
Project Development Team
- Lee Stover, Burke High School Science Teacher: AP, Honors, and regular Environmental Science. She leads the green-team initiative at Burke High School and with her Environmental Science students, is conducting air-quality testing throughout the building. She encourages teachers and students to become involved in the garden project and invites staff to watch their own environmental impact at home and at school.
- Burke High School students enrolled in Lee Stover’s Environmental Science classes and Green Team members
- David Holtzclaw, solar energy and energy-efficiency expert, owner of Transduction Technologies, Nebraskans for Solar Expert Speaker and Nebraska Solar Schools volunteer.
- Helen and Ken Deffenbacher, Nebraska Solar Schools volunteers and Nebraskans for Solar board members
Funding for this project was provided by a contribution from Mr. Robert Hess, who has installed a PV system on his own home as a DIY project.
Download PDF: Burke High School Solar Project, which includes additional information.
A second projects development team is working on two larger demonstration solar projects at North High and Northwest High Schools.
Battery-Generators for Solar Powered Events and Education
Thanks to a grant from the Omaha Venture Group, Nebraskans for Solar was able to purchase these battery generators to store solar energy and convert it back to standard plug power to provide usable solar energy day or night, indoors or out.
If you could use a solar battery-generator for an educational session or a sustainability-related event or would like to request a volunteer from Nebraskans for Solar or Nebraska Solar Schools to demonstrate it at your event, please email:
- Jared Friesen through Nebraskans for Solar’s contact form or
- Helen Deffenbacher@nebraskasolarschools.org.
Photo: Paired with the two new Humless Go Mini battery-generators are two foldable 130-watt portable solar panels. A full battery-generator charge from empty can be completed in 2.5-4 hours with these solar panels.