Making the Grade with Clean Energy

Case Studies of California Solar Schools

Solar energy makes sense for California’s schools. This first-of-its-kind report presents case studies from 18 California school districts that have installed solar energy projects at nearly 200 schools combined, illustrating the environmental, economic and educational benefits of going solar in our schools.


Environment California Research & Policy Center

Executive Summary Solar energy makes sense for California’s schools.   Each  new solar school project  helps clean California’s air, fight global warming, save schools money on energy bills, create local  jobs, and educate and excite students about renewable energy. This report presents case studies from 18 California school districts that have installed solar energy projects at nearly 200 schools combined, illustrating the environmental, economic and educational benefits of going solar in our schools. While not a comprehensive collection of all the schools that have invested in solar power in California, this report is a first-of-its-kind collection of success stories of public kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) schools going solar. California’s schools have only begun to tap into the tremendous potential of solar energy.  School districts, communities, solar companies, utilities and governments should continue to work together toward a clean energy future for the students of today and tomorrow. Powering our schools with solar energy reduces California’s consumption of fossil fuels, producing cleaner air for our children to breathe. •  Among the schools surveyed for this report,  the average size of the solar photovoltaic  (PV) projects installed on roofs, carports and open spaces is 313 kilowatts (kW) per school. •  By generating  clean energy, a 313 kW system prevents the emission of an estimated 200 pounds of smog- forming pollution  per year  and reduces global warming pollution  by approximately 265 metric tons per year. • Over a 20-year period, the Antelope Valley Union School District’s 9,600 kW solar PV system in Los Angeles County will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 250,000 tons. • The Golden Valley Unified School District in Madera County recently installed a 1,100 kW solar PV system that is estimated will prevent the emission of more than 2,300 pounds of unhealthy chemical pollutants like sulfur dioxide, oxides of nitro- gen, particulate  matter and volatile compounds  each year. Solar energy systems are saving cash-strapped schools money. • California’s schools spend an estimated $700 million each year on energy expenses, which is roughly the equivalent of what the state’s schools spend on books and supplies. This poses a significant drain on school finances. • A school with a 313 kW solar PV system can save roughly $40,000 to $125,000 per year.  This is energy that school districts do not have to buy from a utility, saving money that the schools can use to pay for more teachers, staff, books and facilities. • The Milpitas Unified School District in Santa Clara County hosts a 3,450 kW solar PV system that is performing above expectations, and is projected to produce millions in savings over 20 years. • When completed, the Los Angeles Unified School District’s planned 42,700 kW solar PV system will result in average savings of up to $800,000 each month, freeing up funds to be applied towards educational programs. School districts are maximizing their solar potential by investing in both solar photovoltaic systems  and solar thermal technologies. • In addition to installing a 5,310 kW solar PV system, Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego County also has a solar thermal system that heats two swimming pools, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 220,000 pounds annually. School energy systems provide learning opportunities for students. • 5th and 6th graders at Irvine Unified School District in Orange County complete an 18 lesson sustainable energy curriculum, covering topics from electricity consumption to energy conservation to various forms of renewable energy. • Students in Mt. Diablo Unified School District in Contra Costa County use an online monitoring program that provides real-time information on the clean energy generated by their school. Solar school pioneers are sharing lessons learned with other districts. • Berkeley Unified School District in Alameda County was one of three California districts to participate in a program that created Solar Master Plans (SMP) for the districts to follow when going solar. The SMPs provide districts that are considering solar projects with detailed information on all aspects of a solar transaction, providing detailed information about how solar technology works as well as siting, financing and contracting information specific to the individual school districts. California should make it possible for more school districts to participate in the state’s solar transformation.  Key steps include: • Ensuring that California’s Million Solar Roofs Initiative (SB 1) reaches its goal of driving a market for 3,000 megawatts (MW) of rooftop solar across the state by the end of 2016, and then moving beyond that goal to reach 12,000 MW of local clean power by 2020, as envisioned by Governor Brown. •  Continuing rebates on solar water heating systems and expanding these programs to ensure there is enough support to increase California’s promising solar water heating market. • Expanding net metering so that all California schools can go solar. • Expanding feed-in-tariff programs at the state and municipal levels. •  Continuing to offer strong financing programs and policies— including rebates, bonds, grants and other incentives—for schools to go solar. •  Encouraging school districts to perform due diligence on technologies, partners  and financing options in order to ensure the best value for the districts. • Removing barriers to going solar at the local and state levels, such as streamlining permitting and interconnection processes.