Pandemic Opportunity: Make Schools Healthier for Students, More Affordable for Communities with Solar Power

Across the United States, schools and college campuses are uncharacteristically silent, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. It seems odd there are no proms, no spring pageants, no baseball or softball, no graduations. What there is plenty of is time to reflect on the new “normal” and how best to protect the health of students, teachers, and staff when our schools and universities do re-open this fall.

Health is everyone’s priority.

While doing some research for a solar RFP I’m working on, I found this article on a Stanford University research study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters in April 2019. It outlines the health and economic benefits of moving America’s schools to solar energy. One of the main points it made was how replacing current energy sources with clean, renewable solar power would help eliminate air pollutants from fossil fuels, which cause serious health consequences such as asthma, lung issues and heart disease.

Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, a Stanford behavioral scientist and one of the authors of the study, said, “This is an action we can take (converting schools to solar energy) that benefits the environment and human health in a real, meaningful way.”

Dr. Wong-Parodi’s point is well taken. Air pollution is a serious global public health issue, killing an estimated 7 million people worldwide each year. While the EPA reports air quality has improved in the United States over the last two decades, there’s still room for improvement especially in industrial areas of the Midwest.

But here’s an interesting byproduct of the pandemic. Because of the economic shutdown it caused, air quality across the globe has improved dramatically. Let me give you an example.

New Delhi, India, regularly tops the world’s most polluted cities lists. Seriously, gray is the new blue in New Delhi. Because of the pandemic, blue skies and healthy air quality have returned. During the initial three-week lockdown period, the number of hours that air quality in New Delhi was rated as unhealthy dropped from 68 percent in 2019 to 17 percent in 2020. Pretty amazing!

Closer to home, Los Angeles has experienced its longest-ever stretch of clean air, meeting the United Nation’s recommended air quality guidelines. Nice to see So Cal with no haze.

The path to clean air and better health is solar energy

So how do we sustain the new found and greatly improved air quality? A good place to start would be converting schools and universities to solar power. According to the Stanford study, by going solar, schools could easily meet up to 75 percent of their electricity needs and reduce the education sector’s carbon footprint by as much as 28 percent.

Some colleges are already onboard with solar. For example, Butte College in California was the first college in the U.S. to become grid positive. The school provides over 100 percent of its electricity needs via 25,000 solar panels. These panels generate 4.5 megawatts of direct current, or over 6 million kWh of electricity per year. Larger universities like Northwestern in Chicago, the University of Arizona, Colorado State, and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville have robust solar systems.

With nationwide adoption, the positive impact would be felt immediately based on the sheer number of schools. There are 132,592 K-12 schools and nearly 7,100 colleges and universities. They account for more than 10 percent of energy consumption by U.S. buildings and four percent of the nation’s carbon emissions. So your child’s elementary school or your nephew’s university or community college going solar would benefit everyone.

Solar offers huge financial benefits for schools as well. Consider this: the U.S. Department of Energy estimates K-12 schools spend more than $6 billion annually on energy, a cost that’s often second only to salaries. Higher education’s annual energy spend is a whopping $14 billion. And energy costs tied to fossil fuels fluctuate due to demand and continue to go up year after year.

Schools realize significant energy savings

With solar power, schools can lower their annual energy costs by 20, 40, and as much as 80 percent. This money can be redirected into academic programs, sports, technology, additional teachers or staff—whatever the school or university needs. And, solar energy costs will remain stable as it’s reliant on the sun and not the price of coal or natural gas.

For school districts concerned about the upfront cost of installing a solar energy system, particularly during the pandemic recovery period, there are state and federal financial incentives and grants.

Solential Energy removes all barriers to schools adopting solar by finding financing for you so your school district needs zero capital to design and install a solar system. In many cases, private and institutional investors will fund a school’s solar project in exchange for a long-term agreement to purchase the power generated by the system for a set rate.

Additionally, Solential offers a free initial consultation—a solar energy fact-finding mission—to schools to determine where a solar system can be located on your school campus—on a roof, ground or canopy in a parking lot or commons area; historical and future energy requirements; and timing. Based on a school’s approval process, a solar system can be designed, built, commissioned, and removing carbon and other emissions in as little as six months. Find out more here.

Corey Miller, Solential

Now is the perfect time to explore solar.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a huge reality check for our nation. And it seems like every aspect of our lives is being evaluated and in many cases changed to ensure our health is protected. Schools, universities, and community colleges are also working through how to safely bring students back on campus and into classrooms. As I said earlier, health is everyone’s priority. And solar energy, which removes carbon and other particulates from the atmosphere, is the healthiest power source available. To learn more about solar for schools and zero-cost solar financing, contact me, Corey Miller, at or 317-627-4530.