The solar industry has been growing rapidly in the past few years, with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) reporting a 30% increase in solar installations from 2013 to 2014. Part of this growth is reflected in the increasing number of solar installations at schools and universities. As of September 2014, there were 3,752 K-12 schools in the United States with solar installations, according to SEIA, and that number is continuing to grow.
The impetus to install solar often comes from environmentally minded students and parents. One example is Lava Ridge Elementary School in Bend, Oregon (US), where a parent who had recently installed solar on her home approached school authorities to inquire if it was possible to install solar there as well. After discussing the possibility with other parents, the principal approached the school district with a proposal to put solar on the school’s roof.
The system, which was installed by Oregon-based Sunlight Solar in August 2014, started producing energy on 3 September, 2014. The 66-kilowatt array covers 68,710 square feet (6.33% of the total roof space), generating 11% of the school’s electricity load. Installing solar at Lava Ridge Elementary School has saved taxpayers approximately $1,500 in electricity costs since the system started producing energy.
In Oregon, solar at new schools is funded by the school district, but existing schools need to find alternative sources of funding. Lava Ridge was able to secure 100% funding from an Oregon Department of Energy Renewable Energy Development Grant (RED Grant), a Pacific Power Blue Sky Grant and the Energy Trust of Oregon. Out of the 16 elementary schools in the city of Bend, it is one of only two with solar.
Educating through monitoring kiosk
To qualify for the funding, schools must use the monitoring system that is typically installed with solar photovoltaic (PV) panels for education. Lava Ridge Elementary turned to Locus Energy, a specialist in monitoring systems.
The school ordered the Locus LGate 360 bundle, which includes monitoring hardware and cloud-based monitoring software that can be accessed from a physical kiosk, as well as online. The school chose Locus’ product because of the user-friendly interface of its software and its competitive pricing. With students of all ages using the software in their studies, finding a system that was easy to understand and visually appealing was critical, staff members said.
Today, the kiosk in the lobby allows students, parents and visitors to view the amount of energy that is being produced by the system. All 593 students, who range in grade level from kindergarten to fifth grade, have access to the online interface and use it for classwork and homework on solar energy, which is integrated into the science and math curriculums. For example, students may study how fossil fuel use affects the environment, or use solar data to chart changes in solar production over time.
The solar PV system, along with the accompanying educational component, has had a clear impact on the students, demonstrating the value of introducing solar at a young age as a means of advancing the transition to a green economy, according to the staff. The students are highly engaged with the system and are becoming increasingly interested in solar energy.
“If we can train 560 students to believe in alternative energy, maybe they can go home and share their views with their families and help us get the word out about renewables,” says Jennifer Ketner, a third grade teacher at the school.
Written by Adrian P. De Luca, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Locus Energy