Why K-12 Schools and Universities Should Model Solar Energy Use
Ask any superintendent where the district’s money goes each year, and you’ll get two quick responses: salaries and energy.
Most taxpayers agree that teacher compensation is critical to learning. Top-notch teachers deserve to be paid well, but the money often isn’t there because the second biggest constraint on the budget is energy. Schools must provide air conditioning and heating, lighting, and water heating. They also provide energy for equipment – including everything from computers and charging stations to the coffeemaker.
Providing energy can be costly. The Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that energy costs run schools $6 billion annually. Schools and universities spend about 67 cents per square foot when using electricity and 19 cents per square foot when using gas. Many schools have instituted a “lights out when you leave” policy, and they set computers on sleep mode when not in use. Even though achieving an Energy Star rating may save schools as much as half a million dollars annually in utility bills, school leaders continuously look for improved energy efficiency and lower costs.
The deeper savings they seek may lie in solar power.
Solar energy use in schools and universities is a viable option many school leaders are considering. Schools and universities are a logical choice for modeling solar energy use. Thousands of them are leading the way, with one-third of the solar energy schools in California.
The real benefits of using solar power in education
Modeling the use of solar energy in your school or university provides benefits to those willing to take a risk and try something new.
Your state government and even the local utility company may offer incentives if you’re willing to model solar energy use in your schools. PBIs (performance-based incentives), may earn you revenue if you can generate enough energy not only for your school’s needs, but to sell unused kilowatts to the utility company.
Additionally, energy providers have estimated that “for every 1 kW/hr of solar energy that is produced, 300 lbs of carbon is kept out of the atmosphere.” Schools and universities willing to model frugal energy consumption are poised to help save the environment while saving a considerable sum of money.
Public schools and higher education institutions like the University of Virginia have integrated function with instruction. Solar panels offer interactive opportunities for simultaneously learning about technology and energy. The initiative saves money and enriches the curriculum. Solar energy fits naturally in many STEM lessons. Perhaps most significantly, the schools are educating tomorrow’s leaders.
Many schools and universities find themselves one step ahead of the game when it comes to installing solar energy panels. Education buildings have flat roofs that are perfect for producing solar energy. They can even place the panels on top of parking garages and other structures sturdy enough to hold the weight.
· Advocate for solar energy-friendly policies in your state.
· Seek out grants that will help you install solar energy panels and develop the corresponding curriculum.
· Find partners like the National Energy Development Project (NEED). This organization offers lesson plans, learning projects, and maintains a network for schools and universities.
Solar energy is an initiative that will expand your resource. You’ll see the benefits in your financial reports and student outcomes.