Nearly half of the world’s population is currently located within urban areas. As a result, cities and towns are projected to account for 70% of the world’s population by 2050. For our urban areas to continue to grow, new schools and educational spaces will be needed to accommodate the influx of students. To ensure that our students have access to quality education, and to avoid the costs of new facilities, many school districts are turning to solar energy as a cost-effective and sustainable solution. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, solar photovoltaic systems have the potential to save schools money. The cost of solar energy is declining faster than expected, meaning that schools can expect to see a return on their investment within a few years. Implementing solar power in a school environment also has a host of other benefits, including improved learning outcomes, decreased maintenance costs, and increased community involvement. This article explores how solar power can be used in a school setting, the benefits of implementing solar power in a school environment, and examples of solar-powered schools in the U.S.
How Does Solar Power Work?
Solar photovoltaic systems use photovoltaic cells to produce electricity. The PV Cells are connected to a source of electricity via an electric circuit. Once the circuit is closed, a current of electricity is produced. PV systems can be installed on rooftops, on the ground, on walls, or on trees. The PV cells are usually made of silicon, cadmium telluride, or amorphous silicon, depending on the application. Photovoltaic cells are exposed to light when the circuit is open. The photons absorbed by the cell excite atoms and electrons within the cell, creating an electric current. The conversion of sunlight into electricity is the same in all solar photovoltaic systems, regardless of the size or location. That being said, the effectiveness of each system can vary based on the amount of sunlight in the location, the angle of the sun, cloud cover, and other factors.
Different Types of Schools That Should Consider Installing Solar Power
A school can choose a variety of locations for a PV system depending on its needs. There are two main factors to consider when selecting a location for a PV system: access to sunlight and electric grid capacity. Access to sunlight - The amount of sunlight at a given location determines the effectiveness of the system. A PV system must collect a certain amount of energy to produce a desired amount of electricity. The amount of sunlight available at a given location will determine where a PV system can be installed. Electric grid capacity - Electric grid capacity is the maximum amount of electricity that a specific location can support. The more PV systems that are installed at a location, the faster the grid can handle the additional load.
Pros of Implementing Solar Power in a School Environment
- Cost-Effective - According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the average cost of solar energy has declined by 80% over the past 10 years, making solar power a viable option for schools. This means that schools can expect to see a return on their investment within a few years, as prices continue to decline. - Reduced Energy Consumption - Every hour of nonuse of energy represents a loss of revenue. With solar power, schools can take advantage of the benefits of renewable energy without relying on it. That way, they can reduce their energy consumption, making the system more cost-effective. - Reduced Building Maintenance - With less electricity used, there is less wear and tear on the building infrastructure. This can lead to significant savings on maintenance costs.
Cons of Implementing Solar Power in a School Environment
- Obstructions to Solar Power - There are many factors that can influence the effectiveness of a PV system, such as access to sunlight and grid capacity. However, the one factor that is almost certain to affect the performance of a PV system is obstruction. If a PV system is installed on a roof with a high-density building, the PV cells might not be able to collect enough sunlight to produce the required amount of energy. If this happens, the system will not produce any energy and will not be cost-effective. PV system performance is greatly affected by shading from the building itself, trees, or other objects. This can happen unintentionally when installing a PV system on the roof of a school, but is also a common issue when installing a PV system on an existing building.
Solar power can be used to significantly reduce the cost of operating and maintaining schools. The average cost of operating and maintaining schools is around $17,000 per year. Installing solar power can reduce this cost by up to $10,000 annually. Schools that choose to implement solar power can expect to see many benefits, including reduced energy consumption, cost-effective operation, and reduced building maintenance.