Solar Schools 2025 seeks to increase solar energy use in 50 K-12 schools each year

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By Terri Williams

A new report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) reveals that over half (57%) of the 116.9 million residential buildings have rooftops that are suitable for solar energy. Rooftop solar PV (photovoltaic) can also save energy and cut energy costs, making it a great choice for building owners interested in renewable energy.

Now, there’s a push to include schools in the solar movement. Solar Schools 2025 plans to close the solar gap in U.S. schools (and homes) through the Solar Schools 2025 initiative.

“Solar Schools 2025, a project of the Renewable Nation app, works with 50 schools a year to guide them through the process of installing solar energy,” explains Scott Stapf, project director for Solar Schools 2025.

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Renewable Nation is a nonprofit that uses technology to educate schools and homeowners about the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency.  The nonprofit considers several factors when choosing which buildings are good solar candidates. “Satellite mapping and geographic sunshine data are used to model the solar potential of homes and schools,” Stapf says.

“There are about 125,000 elementary and secondary schools in the United States, and solar would be cost-effective for at least 72,000 of those schools,” he says. “However, fewer than 8 percent of ‘solar-ready’ schools are powered with clean energy today.”

The Solar Schools 2025 Initiative includes the following four actions:

  • Target 50 schools a year to “buddy up” with schools that already have solar installations.
  • Provide a step-by-step package of materials for schools that want to go solar.
  • Produce a weekly series of webinars teaching schools the benefits of solar energy.
  • Make available for wider consumption all video and written content originally developed for targeted schools through the Renewable Nation app.

The importance of using solar energy

According to Stapf, schools that adopt solar energy experience numerous economic benefits. “They can reduce electricity bills and free up money for educational purposes.” And the savings are substantial.  “According to researchers, there are 450 individual school districts in the U.S. that could each save over $1 million over the course of 30 years,” Stapf says.

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Renewable Nation won’t stop with schools – the nonprofit also wants to help homeowners save energy with solar power. Stapf says 58.4 percent of single-family homes are solar-ready, and 62 percent of homeowners want solar on their rooftops. However, only 2.2 percent of solar-ready home have rooftop solar installations. Why? Stapf believes conflicting opinions and inaccurate information about the costs and benefits of going solar are preventing consumers from taking action. To combat unreliable information from the Internet, the Renewable Nation App offers simple, usable information to help homeowners make an informed decision.

More Saving Tips

Besides going solar, Stapf says homeowners could save approximately $100 a month by taking the steps below:

  • Get a home energy audit conducted by a qualified expert. The Building Performance Institute and the Residential Energy Services Network are two sources for finding qualified energy professionals.
  • Use caulk, expandable sealant, and weather stripping to seal air leaks around doors, windows, and electrical outlets.
  • Wash your clothes in cold water and consider switching to a hybrid water heater to save money on your water heating costs.
  • Turn down the thermostat for 7 to 10 degrees for at least one-third of the day, and also consider a smart thermostat, which can help you save money on heating and cooling costs.
  • Use power strips to power household electronics. When the electronics are not in use, the power strip can be shut off.
  • If your fridge is over 15 years old, a newer, more efficient model may pay for itself in a few years.
  • Use EnergyStar light fixtures and bulbs. The Energy Star label is the government’s symbol of energy efficiency.
  • Look for the Energy Star label when shopping for kitchen and laundry appliances, thermostats, windows, doors, skylights, ceiling fans, and other products.

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Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.