Professional Learning

School Incentives for Installing Solar-Power Systems

School districts across the country take advantage of incentives for mounting solar panels.

March 8, 2010

The sun is shining on public schools throughout the United States thanks to federal, state, and local government funding and incentives and private assistance for installing solar-power systems.

Installing solar-power systems costs $8,000-$10,000 per kilowatt of power output, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Schools can earn some of that money back through energy credits for the surplus power their panels generate and feed into the power grid. Keep in mind, too, that installing a solar-power system is equivalent to prepaying your utility bill for the next few decades; systems last for 15 to 25 years.

Most solar-power systems installed at schools are 1-kilowatt systems, which cost about $25,000 for equipment, installation, and teacher training. These power 16–20 fluorescent tube lights each day, about 1–2 percent of a school's energy requirement. Activists suggest starting schools off with small but visible installations (and curricular materials) to sell district administrators on the technology and the educational benefits before broaching the subject of comprehensive systems.

What are the cost savings?

  • School administrators in Norton, Massachusetts, could save $350,000 over the next 25 years with a 25-kW system.
  • A district on New York's Long Island will save about $28,000 per year with a 111-kW system; it received a rebate of about $350,000 from the local utility company.
  • A 788-kW districtwide system in Hanford, California, could save the district more than $150,000 over the first five years with a power-purchase agreement. The project qualifies for more than $4 million in tax incentives and cash rebates.

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