Sustainability Infrastructure

Solar power is having a ‘teaching moment’

Acres of flat rooftops for solar panels, suppliers eager to provide deals and school boards looking to save money down the road have schools emerging as the ideal candidates for solar energy. 

Science and math teachers are leading the way and using the installation of new solar systems as teachable moments. 

Dominion Energy in Virginia has created a curriculum and teacher training in partnership with the National Energy Education Development Project. Children get to learn how their school’s solar energy systems work, track energy usage and learn about the properties of the sun. The program, which is now in 18 schools, has been so successful that it’s being expanded into North Carolina and South Carolina. 

“We’ve gone through generations and generations of students who hated science because they didn’t get it, and they didn’t have the hands-on appreciation like this one provides,” the Virginia Secretary of Education, Dietra Trent, said at a news conference. “You really do have to get them engaged early to give them an appreciation of what solar energy is all about.”

To date, more than 5 percent of all K-12 schools in the United States produce solar energy — double what it was just three years ago. 

According to one study, the average solar power system now being installed is about 300 kilowatts, which translates into 900-1,200 panels. Most are installed on rooftops and carports, but new buildings are being constructed with solar energy built into the design.

The initial outlay can be considerable. Some schools are leasing — or paying in installments — to third party vendors as a way to keep upfront costs at a minimum. Other school boards are agreeing to the cash outlay. Studies show they will save millions over time in reduced energy costs. Kern High School District in Bakersfield, Calif., for example, estimates it will save an estimated $80 million in electricity costs over the next 25 years.  

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