US K-12 Schools Turn To Solar for Bigger Savings

US K-12 schools solar capacity
Credit: Portland General Electric, Flickr Creative Commons

A new study shows that the number of K-12 schools in the United States powered by solar has been increasing over the past three years — and leading to bigger savings. “Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in US Schools” from the Solar Energy Industries Association, the Solar Foundation, and the clean energy nonprofit Generation 180 came out this week.

Since the previous report was released in 2014, solar capacity in the country’s schools has doubled. As of October, 5,489 K-12 schools have solar installations, which equals nearly 1,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity, according to the SEIA.

Installations include both PV and solar water heating. Combined, the installations have a capacity of 910 MW and produce an estimated 1.4 million MWh of electricity annually, the report found.

“Installing solar can significantly decrease schools’ electricity rates and shield them from fluctuating energy prices,” the report notes. Nationwide, schools have experienced financial savings by installing solar energy systems. Examples from the report include:

  • 1,200 kW solar arrays installed at Rio Rancho High School and Cleveland High School in New Mexico came online in November 2013. Since then, the system has saved the school district approximately $700,000 a year.
  • In Greenfield, Missouri, the Greenfield School District installed a 376 kW system that is expected to reduce the electricity bill from $8,000 – $10,000 per month to $2,000 – $3,000 per month, amounting to more than $3 million in savings over the next 30 years. The school district paid for the $676,000 system through a combination of local solar rebates and state-level energy loans.
  • In New York, the Warwick Valley School District broke ground in July 2017 on the largest solar project owned by a school district in the state, which is estimated to save approximately $250,000 a year in energy costs.
  • In Grayslake, Illinois, Grayslake Community High School District built three arrays totaling 2.9 MW. Completed in 2017, the district expects to save $10 million over the lifetime of the system.

Unsurprisingly, California leads the nation in schools that have adopted solar with more than 489 MW installed, representing 54% of the total school solar PV capacity, the report says. “New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York round out the top five, and combined with California, account for 87% of all K-12 school solar capacity installed.” Arizona ranked the highest in solar watts per student while Nevada had the highest percentage of schools with solar.

PPAs have become the primary method for financing school solar adoption, driven by increased demand and falling solar prices. “Over the last 10 years, the average price of a school solar PV installation has dropped by 67%,” the report found. “That price trend includes a drop of 19% in 2016 alone.”

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