Schools across the country are beginning to understand and utilize the benefits of solar power. As a successful initiative in Illinois demonstrates, schools are well-suited to produce much of their own energy and benefit from environmental and educational opportunities as well.
Galesburg High School in Northwestern Illinois, and three out of five other schools in the district, currently have solar panels. Superintendent John Asplund says the solar arrays will decrease the school’s energy bill by $40,000 in the next few years, and he anticipates that number increasing.
Beyond cost savings, adding solar panels to schools has numerous benefits, including sharing this technology in communities that otherwise may not be exposed to it and teaching the next generation about the future of clean energy. The positive impact on the environment is also key.
The Illinois Power Agency runs a renewable incentive program to support these school solar panel projects. The vast space available when installing solar panels, including facility roofs and campus grounds, plus the lifespan of schools and panels, makes the project a perfect relationship. The photovoltaic panels tie into the school’s electric system and municipal grid. The energy powers the school – lights, heating, cooling, computers – and any excess goes back into the grid. The school then gets credit for this “rollover” energy.
The environmental benefits of solar panels are even greater when installed on the ground. The company handling the installations, Primergy, works with horticulturists and beekeepers to ensure native grass and plants surround the panels and reintroduces pollinators to the land.
When touching on the social, economic and environmental benefits of solar panels, Primergy’s chief operating officer, Adam Larner, says the bottom line actually quadruples. “You’re bringing in school board folks, community folks, local government and getting them involved in how these technologies are benefitting the other three elements in their area,” Larner explains.
The symbiotic relationship between schools and solar technology has compounding benefits for all involved. The examples showcased in Illinois are sure to spread interest and awareness nationwide.