Solar Energy Technology for Our Schools Sets an Example for the Next Generations
Iowa is one of the sunniest states in the US, with summers exceptionally known for their heat and humidity. On a typical summer day, day temperatures can go from 32 degrees Celsius to more than 38 degrees. If you also consider that Iowa receives an average of 204 sunny days a year it is easy to see that the state is an ideal location for solar power.
A new push has recently been made for Iowa city schools to use solar energy by installing panels on its school buildings. Aside from the obvious reduction in electricity bills, other benefits include the creation of more jobs, cleaner air and water, and the added education to students regarding renewable energy.
Parents of Iowa City school students Jeff Biggers and Katie Roche have recently put a petition to add solar power to school buildings, and so far, they have gathered over 500 signatures from locals who support this proposed project. However, Board President of the Iowa City Community School District Chris Lynch, although open to the idea, does not foresee its possibility.
High upfront costs and competitions among the school districts for project funds are said to be the barriers to making things happen. However, Biggers and Roche has urged these schools to attend forums about alternatives such as the proposed Solar Power Purchase Agreement.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, these agreements can allow developers to install solar power systems in schools, where they will own and maintain the panels on the property. In turn, schools can purchase the low-cost solar power and the developers can benefit from profits of the electricity produced and the tax credits. These kinds of agreements can help the school districts avoid high upfront costs that seem to be the very reason why many schools are not yet implementing solar power systems.
Iowa is already a leader in wind energy in the US and it has the potential to be ranked as the 16th state with the highest production of solar power. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory or NREL, Iowa has the potential to produce about 7,000,000 gigawatts of electricity from solar panels. For Iowa rooftops alone, it could have the capacity to produce 20% of the entire state’s electricity needs. Other means to reduce the cost of high upfront costs include public policies such as tax incentives. The federal income tax credit for owners of solar panels is at 30% of produced electricity, while Iowa matches it with 15%, making it a total of 45%, which can significantly offset the initial cost.
The Iowa Energy Center also offers a low interest loan program, as well as the US Department of Agriculture, which provides a competitive grant program for solar panel installation and use through the Rural Energy for America Program. With Iowa’s potential to be one of the highest solar power producers in the US, and with the numerous options of offsetting the high costs of installation, Iowa schools can dramatically benefit from their use of solar power.
Setting an example to other schools in the district, the WACO school district in Wayland has announced plans to be Iowa’s first district to be completely powered by the sun. The district hopes to reduce about 90% of their electricity expenditures, giving them more flexibility in terms of keeping and hiring staff who are the bloodline of their schools. And aside from this, teachers have also begun including lessons on clean energy in their classes, which is a great thing for students and essentially, the environment.
Gordon's expertise in the area of industrial energy efficiency and alternative energy. He is an experienced electrical engineer with a Masters degree in Alternative Energy technology. He is the co-founder of several renewable energy media sites including Solar Thermal Magazine.