Sunshine splashing onto school rooftops and campuses across the country is an undertapped resource that could help shrink electricity bills, new research suggests.
The study, published in the April issue of the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters, shows taking advantage of all viable space for solar panels could allow schools to meet up to 75 percent of their electricity needs and reduce the education sector’s carbon footprint by as much as 28 percent.
At the same time, solar panels could help schools unplug from grids fed by natural gas and coal power plants that produce particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides — air pollutants that can contribute to smog and acid rain as well as serious health consequences including heart attacks and reduced lung function. “This is an action we can take that benefits the environment and human health in a real, meaningful way,” said Stanford behavioral scientist Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, an author of the study.
New solar projects may easily slip down the list of priorities in a time of widespread protests by teachers calling for increased school funding, smaller class sizes and higher wages. But the U.S. Department of Energy estimates K-12 school spend more than $6 billion per year on energy, and energy costs in many districts are second only to salaries. In the higher education sector, yearly energy costs add up to more than $14 billion.