March 23, 2016
By Stelli Munnis, Sun Power
As California schools face the prospect of continued budget cuts and rising energy costs, doing more with less has become their mantra. While energy represents a huge cost center for many schools, strategically managed energy presents a significant opportunity—to save money for teacher salaries and student services, expand educational opportunities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve the human health and learning environment of students.
Energy costs are the second highest cost for many schools and universities—second only to teacher salaries—and schools could save up to 25% of energy costs every year by implementing energy improvements according to the US Department of Energy. In addition, offsetting energy consumption with increasingly cost-competitive clean energy technologies like solar can protect schools against future rises in electricity rates by essentially “locking in” today’s prices for 20 years or more.
With the passage of California SB 350 (2015), which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase renewable energy production in the state by 2030—and Governor Brown’s ambitious goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050—the time is ripe for educators to evaluate their options for a strong, proactive energy policy at every campus.
At the 2016 Education Symposium, California educators, facilities directors and administrators will convene to share best practices and learn from each other how to transform energy from a cost center to a strategic asset. Two sessions are available, one in Northern California on April 25, and one in Southern California on May 20, featuring some of the brightest minds in sustainability and energy technology from across the state.
Among the questions that will be covered at the symposium sessions:
- What are the policies and market dynamics driving energy improvements in schools?
- How much could our district save with an energy efficiency retrofit?
- What are the options for my campus to install a solar energy system?
- How can schools take advantage of funding mechanisms for capital improvement projects and energy efficiency retrofits, often with no upfront investment?
- What are the resources for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and career technology curriculum development that addresses common core requirements?
Today, more than 2.7 million school children currently attend a school with solar across the U.S. At last count, 3,757 schools nationwide and 963 schools in California have installed a solar system, according to a report from the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar projects are as diverse as the campuses they power—from carport installations that turn parking lots into energy plants to rooftop systems that convert many schools’ large, energy-consuming flat roofs into net energy producers.
Perhaps the most significant benefit of solar installations on schools is the opportunity for inspiration they provide. Schools across California are taking the lead by creating smart energy strategies that take advantage of advancements in energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions like solar, saving money that can be reallocated for capital improvements while creating “living labs” for faculty, staff and students. School solar projects are aesthetically pleasing and often become the centerpiece of a community—demonstrating good stewardship and a commitment to the environment that students take to heart.
The good news for California schools is that regardless of a project’s size or scope, programs exist today that will enable schools to make substantial energy improvements, often with little or no investment. Proposition 39, the California Clean Energy Jobs Act, provides up to $550 million per year to improve energy efficiency and increase the use of clean energy in public schools and community colleges.
To find out how your school could benefit from a forward-looking energy strategy, consider attending a 2016 Energy Symposium at Stanford April 25 or at CSU-Fullerton on May 20. Get the tools you’ll need to devise your plan, hear lessons learned, and find the inspiration you need to create a more sustainable school today. See our full agenda here.