How schools can go solar in 8 steps

As solar has become more common, we’re seeing many schools make the switch to green energy. We understand that it’s a big decision, but the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Let us take the pressure off with this article, as we outline the steps a school should take to make their solar goals a reality.

1. Get the ball rolling

If you’re interested in bringing solar to your school, the easiest and most important thing you can do, is get the conversation started. As with most big decisions, it takes much discussion and planning so the sooner you can plant the seed, the better.

So who starts that conversation?

Most people think solar must start with a “high-up decision maker”, but that’s especially untrue in schools. Did you know that a number of solar projects have started because students wanted to get involved in green initiatives? Whether you’re a student, teacher, or faculty member, you have a voice and the power to make a difference. Here are a just a few preliminary ideas for students:

  • Set up a meeting with your principal

  • Start a petition

  • Form a green organization

If you are higher up in the decision-making process, it’s important to research and outline the benefits in order to present your case for bringing solar to your school. Here’s a great case study that highlights the savings and environmental impact the Attleboro school district is seeing from its solar system.

Students of Attleboro High School

2. Determine what your goals are

Before you navigate through the logistics, you’ll want to consider your bigger picture goals for solar. What would you like the school to gain from your renewable energy system? Clear goals will help your installer better understand how to tailor the project to your needs and will also help you streamline the process. Here are a few key initiatives to think about:

  • How much energy would you like to offset?

  • How will you capitalize on the education component with students?

  • How will you promote your green energy benefits to the community?

  • How will you capitalize on the momentum from this project to accomplish other green initiatives?

3. Decide where you want the system

Once you’ve figured out your goals, it’s time to figure out where you want to put your system. One of the great things about solar is that it has tremendous potential for customization – your size, location, types of panels, how you finance it, and much more. This customization allows businesses and organizations of all kinds to find the best green energy solution for them. For schools, it’s generally an especially viable opportunity given all the available roof space. But that’s certainly not the end of your options. Albertus Magnus College sought the use of carports to accomplish their solar goals:

Albertus Magnus Carport Rendering

Below are a few key notes about each install type:

  • Roof – roofs at schools are typically spaces that can’t be utilized for anything else, which makes solar the perfect opportunity to pursue.

  • Carport – this type of installation serves a dual-purpose. Not only are you using solar power, you’re offering covered parking for students and faculty. Carports can withstand winter snow load, and protect cars from inclement weather.

  • Ground Mount – because most school land already serves an important purpose, often times a playing field of some kind, we strongly suggest schools pursue roof or carport systems. However, if a school has a huge excess of land, it can definitely be an option.

4. Select a provider

The solar industry has grown tremendously in the past few years, creating a wealth of solar providers in any given area. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the incredible monetary and environmental benefits solar power has. So how do you choose?

Here are some important factors to consider when selecting a provider:

  • Experience with other schools
    Finding a company that’s familiar with helping schools go solar will make your project smoother and more efficient. Green Street Power Partners just completed a project for the Attleboro school district last year (the largest rooftop system in Massachusetts), and has 5 other schools that are in the process of going solar with them right now.

  • Local to your area

    • A local company will be readily available to meet you and address any concerns throughout the project

    • Going local reinvests back into your community

    • They’re familiar with local utility and region-specific solar regulations, maximizing the efficiency of your solar project

  • Offer flexible financing options
    Because each school has its own unique needs, make sure you find a company that’s willing to work hard on creating a financing solution tailored to you.

5. Understand your financing options

Just like with the design and placement of your system, there’s plenty of room for customization with the financing option you select. Here’s a brief overview of your possibilities:

  • Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) – a 3rd party own, installs, maintains, and insures your system – you just pay for the solar power. This allows your school to purchase solar energy typically at a discounted rate, from carbon-based utility electricity, without any capital expense

  • Lease – allows your school to generate rental income to offset operating expenses

  • Purchase – generally not the best option for schools because you forgo the solar investment tax credit (ITC). If you’d really like to own your project, some companies have structured a “sale leaseback” which is sort of a hybrid of a purchase and lease where a 3rd party takes the tax attributes, and after 7 or 10 years the system ownership reverts to the school.

6. Capitalize on savings

This is the part where you get to put all of your green energy savings to use. We know you probably have plenty of ways to maximize funds, so make sure you set aside time and decide how to best use your savings.

7. Promote and garner support

At this stage, your system is complete, and your school is just beginning to realize the great benefits. This is a really exciting accomplishment to promote and share with your community (don’t forget that your clean energy choice is having a hugely positive impact on them as well).

Getting your community motivated by your sustainability initiatives can lead to a positive ripple effect.

  • Residents will have a better understanding of how solar works

  • More residents and organizations may decide to go solar

  • You will earn more respect from community members

There are a few different ways to promote your project:

  • Host a ribbon-cutting ceremony
    Let everyone share in the happiness of successfully going green, and feel

  • Send flyers home with students
    Make sure everyone involved with your school sees the impact the system is having

    • Describe how your solar system works

    • Highlight savings and environmental impact

    • Let them know what school upgrades or improvements you have planned for your savings

  • Benefits & Energy Tracker
    Displaying your system’s stats in real time is a great interactive way of involving everyone at the school, and served as an effective reminder

8. Educate students & community

With many schools jumping on board with solar power, more educational resources have been created to accompany your system install, allowing the benefits to extend into the classroom.

SunPower is just one example. They’ve developed a pretty remarkable, hands-on program called Horizons that can be used if you select SunPower panels for your system (sold by many different solar providers, including Green Street Power Partners).

SunPower Horizons can accommodate K-12 and college students and comes with 3 components: in the classroom, in the field, and development for educators. SunPower provides the curriculum, all you have to worry about is the implementation.

Where to go from here?

We know this article holds a lot of information, but going solar is easier than you think and definitely a worthwhile endeavor. There are so many resources out there to help you accomplish your goals, and once you get the OK to make your project happen, your solar provider will handle most of the hard work for you. Just remember that with solar you have the potential to create a lasting impact in so many ways.

For more information on going solar at your school, contact Green Street Power Partners: