By Jake DiRe
Out of the 125,000 K-12 schools in the United States, over 3,700 are running on solar power. Three-thousand of these schools installed their solar power systems within the past six years, as solar technology continues to become less expensive and more sophisticated.
This trend in powering our schools reflects the growing recognition by district and state officials that photovoltaic electrical systems offer significant financial and environmental benefits. Here are four key reasons why more schools are making this transition.
A financial analysis notes that 450 more school districts could each save approximately $1 million in energy costs over the next 30 years if they installed a solar electric power system. Schools could realize further savings if they added solar thermal water-heating systems to their existing infrastructure.
Architecturally, most schools are well-suited to the addition of solar panels. They are frequently one-story buildings with broad, flat roof surfaces that make the installation of solar electric or water-heating systems easy. Schools can also install solar canopies in parking lots, providing the benefit of shade while producing substantial amounts of electricity on land that is already in use.
Hydropower: Unlike solar power, which can be generated on an individual site, hydropower requires a collective regional effort and a substantial expenditure on infrastructure. Furthermore, the building of dams and other waterways creates environmental disruptions that offset the effort toward sustainability.
Wind power: While large-scale wind farms are one valuable element in our nation’s energy future, wind power tends to be impractical on a single-site basis. Wind power systems require expensive construction and maintenance, and they include many moving parts that can wear out or break. Furthermore, the tall towers are often considered unsightly and generate a push-back from neighbors who object to the disruption of the visual landscape. Additionally, the noise of the windmill’s blades impinges on people’s awareness, and they can cause a high mortality rate in the local bird population. Given these objections, school districts are unlikely to find strong support for wind-powered systems to generate electricity.
Solar power: Solar power has few of the drawbacks of other sustainable energy sources. With no moving parts, solar electric systems require almost no maintenance. They are completely scalable, down to the smallest building or even to individual appliances. Entirely silent, photovoltaic systems don’t create a sensory distraction to people nearby, and they are free of environmental hazards to water supplies or wildlife.
Schools have a natural role within their communities to display leadership in building a future that is environmentally sustainable. The project of installing a solar panel array at a school does more than simply save money and reduce environmental pollution. It provides an educational opportunity for students to learn about alternative energy production, become more scientifically literate and increase their awareness of our planet's limited resources.
Image credit: Flickr/BlackRockSolar