Any building with a large, flat rooftop is a prime candidate for a solar installation. And one particular large, flat roof that’s ubiquitous in the U.S. is on schools.
According to a new report by the Energy Department and the Solar Foundation — the research arm of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar trade organization — if schools took advantage of their full potential for solar, they would add 5.4 gigawatts to the country’s solar capacity. That’s just over a third of the 16 gigawatts of total capacity America currently boasts. That would be enough to power roughly one million homes, and a carbon emissions reduction equivalent to taking around one million passenger vehicles off the road.
The study also provided an interactive map of the nation’s schools, allowing users to identify which school buildings would be the best candidates for solar.
There are currently 125,000 K-12 schools in the country, and 3,727 of them already have solar systems installed. More than 3,000 of those were installed in the last six years — an indication of solar’s swift rise in the United States. After crunching the numbers, the report determined that another 40,000 to 72,000 could also install a system cost-effectively.
Furthermore, the electricity generated by the 3,727 school solar systems already in place adds up to $77.8 million in utility bills per year, freeing up enough money to pay 2,200 new teachers a starting annual salary of $35,672. According to the analysis, 450 individual school districts who currently lack solar could save themselves $1,000,000 each over a 30-year period by installing a solar system.
Along with electricity, rooftop space on schools could also be taken up with solar thermal systems to heat water, saving the schools on the water bills as an alternative to their electricity bills. Also on the water front, solar uses far less fresh water than traditional fossil fuel power or nuclear — the power plants often require large and regular supplies of fresh water to keep themselves cool. So increasing the nation’s current solar capacity by a third would free more freshwater supplies, in a world at increasing risk for water scarcity.
The report even points out that the solar systems could provide teachers with an opportunity to give their students a hands-on educational experience ion science, technology, engineering and related subjects.