At School, Solar Makes the Grade

at-school-smWhen the 800 students attending Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in New Bedford, Massachusetts, turn on the classroom lights and power up their computers, they don’t notice anything unusual about the way these devices are powered. There is one big difference, though, between their school and most other schools: Much of its electricity is derived from the sun.

A system of photovoltaic panels on the school’s roof—designed, built, monitored and maintained by ConEdison Solutions—produces electricity that is used on-site, a strategy that is projected to save $100,000 over 20 years. Other schools in the New Bedford area are saving with solar as well, along with a few other public buildings like the community center and a gymnasium. The approximate reduction in operating costs for the city will add up to $10 million by 2033.

For schools and universities, the cost of energy is huge—second only to personnel. Solar power can reduce a school’s electricity bill significantly, freeing up additional funds for cash-strapped school districts. In addition, schools are uniquely suited to benefit from solar installations because they operate only during the day.

The environmental angle is equally compelling. Solar power generation reduces the amount of carbon being released into the atmosphere, compared to the burning of fossil fuels. Another ConEdison Solutions project underway at the University of Massachusetts, for example, is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the tune of 31,000 non-metric tons of carbon dioxide—and save the university $89,000 on electricity in the first year alone.

But the benefits don’t end there. When it comes to schools, solar can have another perk: educational value. The solar panels become a hands-on science experiment, inspiring both students and teachers to learn more about how solar energy works. Lady Bird Johnson Middle School in Irving, Texas, was built using a variety of cutting-edge renewable energy technologies, including solar panels on the roof. The entire school is essentially used as a learning lab. Students get practical, hands-on experience with rainwater collection, wind turbine efficiency (there are 12 turbines on campus), and solar panel usage (roof access allows for direct examination of the panels). Other solar-inspired educational activities include Solar “4R” Schools’ Solar Day, where scientists and industry experts work with students on solar projects, classroom experiments based on real-time electricity output and usage data, and independent study projects.

The high cost of energy has made efficiency in schools a hot topic. Solar isn’t the only way to manage energy consumption. Some other ways to save energy include:

  • Switch to LED lighting. Lighting accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the average school’s total energy expenses. LED is the new standard in educational facilities and delivers better lighting with up to 50 percent energy savings;
  • Upgrade outdated systems. The Camas School District in Washington reduced energy use at its administrative headquarters by 20 percent by upgrading an inefficient HVAC system. The same can be accomplished for outdated boiler systems; and
  • Unplug unused electronics. In Colorado’s Thompson School District, students were challenged to find creative ways to conserve. They changed their behaviors, consciously unplugging devices that weren’t being used (to cut off all power going to the device) and put computers into sleep mode more often. All five schools reduced their energy use anywhere from 10 to 18 percent.

ConEdison Solutions wants to help your school go solar with confidence. To find out more about our renewable energy products for schools, or to get a custom quote, click here.

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