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PV at U.S. Schools More than Doubled Every Year for Past Six

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
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The first nationwide assessment of how solar energy is providing clean, renewable power for schools and communities across the U.S. was released September 18. Produced by The Solar Foundation (TSF) and the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) with grant funding from the Department of Energy, the first-of-its-kind study reveals that 3,752 K-12 schools have installed solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Installed PV capacity among U.S. schools has soared over the last decade, rising from 303 kilowatts (kW) to 457,000 kW, according to TSF-SEIA's report, “Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools.” That has resulted in prevention of 442,799 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions per year, the equivalent of saving 50 million gallons of gasoline or taking some 100,000 cars of U.S. roads annually, according to a TSF news release.

Solar energy installations at U.S. schools are not only helping improve the environmental health and quality, they are saving schools, and taxpayers, money, and they are creating good local “green” jobs. Schools are using the resulting energy bill savings to pay teachers' salaries and buy textbooks and other learning materials, according to the report. Furthermore, study researchers concluded that more than 70,000 additional schools could benefit by installing solar PV systems.

Soaring PV installations at U.S. schools


Solar PV installation costs continue to decline even as demand catches up with the oversupply of PV modules that has prevailed in the market over the past few years. That's making the installation of PV systems more affordable for schools, home and property owners, TSF and SEIA point out. National blended average PV system prices fell 53 percent from 2010's level, according to the SEIA-GTM Research U.S. Solar Market Insight report.

Commenting on the solar schools study results, TSF President and Executive Director Andrea Luecke said:

“Solar enables schools to save money, enrich learning and keep teachers in the classroom – all while providing local jobs and generating emissions-free electricity. With five times as many solar schools today than in 2008, it is clear that the solar schools movement is gaining momentum and providing kids with the greatest benefits.”

TSF and SEIA researchers summarized the study's key findings:

  • There are 3,752 K-12 schools in the United States with solar installations, meaning nearly 2.7 million students attend schools with solar energy systems;

  • The 3,727 PV systems have a combined capacity of 490 megawatts (MW), and generate roughly 642,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year, which represents a combined $77.8 million per year in utility bills ‒ an average of almost $21,000 per year per school;

  • Despite this promising progress, solar potential remains largely untapped. Of the 125,000 schools in the country, between 40,000 and 72,000 can “go solar” cost-effectively.

The savings and benefits being realized by schools that have installed PV systems could be reproduced much more widely, according to TSF and SEIA. SEIA President and CEO Rhone Resch elaborated:
“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 PV system. That’s a lot of money. 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, providing hope for our children, as well as for future generations of children.”

In addition, solar schools study researchers found that:


  • 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 kilowatts (kW) and 55 schools have systems that are 1 megawatt (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).
*Images credit: The Solar Foundation, Solar Energy Industries Association, “Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools”

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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