Schools are Harnessing Solar Power in Record Numbers

Solar panels on top of a city school
Lea Suzuki / The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Solar arrays offer cost savings and educational opportunities.

by

In 2014, two solar energy groups published a report finding that only about 3,750 U.S. schools — out of a total of roughly 130,000 — were generating electricity from solar panels. But that number is on the rise.

According to the fourth edition of the “Brighter Future” report, released last week by the clean energy nonprofit Generation180, the number of U.S. schools using solar power has more than doubled in the last seven years, reaching roughly 8,400 by the end of 2021. These so-called “solar schools” now account for nearly 1 in 10 public, independent, and charter K-12 schools and serve more than 6 million students nationwide. 

Tish Tablan, director of Generation180’s Solar for All Schools program and lead author of the report, called the number “an incredible milestone.” As some schools build new rooftop and ground-based solar arrays, others are subscribing to community solar programs. In some cases, schools with solar panels are generating enough electricity to sell it back to their communities. Since 2015, American schools’ total solar energy capacity has nearly tripled to 1,644 megawatts — enough to meet the electricity use of all the households in a city the size of Boston, Denver, or Washington, D.C.

At the front of the pack is California; the Golden State has both the greatest number of solar schools and the most solar capacity. It’s in fourth place for the percentage of schools that have solar power, trailing only Connecticut, Washington, D.C., and Hawai’i, where a full 40 percent of schools have adopted solar. And other states are making great gains — between 2019 and 2021, Washington state saw solar capacity grow more than eightfold, while Wisconsin, Illinois, Arkansas, and Virginia all at least doubled their installed solar capacity.

According to Tablan, much of this growth has been enabled by third-party financing models like power purchase agreements, or PPAs. With these agreements, developers pay to install and operate solar panels, while schools buy the electric output for a predetermined amount of time. Developers benefit because the agreements allow them to take advantage of federal tax credits and provide a stable source of income. 

Read the full article, Schools are Harnessing Solar Power in Record Numbers, at The Grist.

Sign up for the CREATE Newsletter and stay updated on the latest information in Renewable Energy Education.