Solar in Schools Adds Energy to California Solar Rush
In 2004, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), heavily invested inthe future of California’s energy efficiency, decided the solarrush should not be limited to the state’s workforce. What resultedwas an effort to bring solar energy education to California’s publicschool system, ensuring that tomorrow’s Californians become invested and committed to solar innovation while today’s Californians build theindustry’s foundation.
The project, officially titled The Solar SchoolInitiative, is turning K-12 public school playgrounds into sciencelabs. Students can learn about solar energy hands on, for instance, byobserving how a one-kilowatt (kW) pole-mounted photovoltaic (PV) systemoperates. The program also entails training workshops for teachers, asolar power curriculum and “Bright Ideas” grants for solar scienceprojects in classes.
Launched in 2004, the program has helped the state’s under-fundedpublic school system bring new, relevant material into theircurricula. Since then, PG&E has contributed $6 million to 60different solar schools throughout California. Another 63 schools havefunded their own solar installation projects, together representing 123different public elementary and middle schools in the state.
One thing the initiative does not support? Roof-mounted solarsystems. Why? PG&E offers two main reasons for the stipulation.
First, rooftop systems do not facilitate learning about solar energy, as they are, more often than note, “out of sight, out of mind.” Thefocus, then, has been on pole-mounted solar arrays, which are visibleand easily accessible.
Second, each solar school that receives funds through the programmust have the same installation to ensure consistent data is collectedfrom each school. It’s a clear-cut way to tell which schools are makingthe most out of their solar projects. If one school can’t do rooftop, no one can.
Applicants for PG&E funding are chosen based on the system’slevel of visibility, the panels’ proximity to the PG&E grid thatcollects data and the quality of the site’s solar resource. The morevisibility, the closer to the grid and the more solar access, the better chance to receive funding.
Since implementation, the program has been nationally recognized andawarded the Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s Annual InnovationAward and has been named “Educational Innovator of the Year” by the SanFrancisco Business Times. Most notably, the program received theGovernor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award, the state’s most prestigious environmental honor.
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