Hawaii Schools Expand Solar Energy Use

Posted by Elizabeth Hurd

Nov 18, 2012 1:56:00 PM

Solar Education and Energy Savings

The Hawaii Department of Education plans to install solar photovoltaic panels (solar PV) on each public school in the state over the next five years. Electricity costs will decrease while helping the state meet its renewable energy goal of 90 percent clean energy by 2040. Little or no upfront costs from the state would be necessary to fund the proposed improvements. In fact schools should end up making money when extra power is generated and sold. Yearly electrical cost savings might be close to $5 million.

Saving Money with Solar

In the course of five years, The Department of Education believes it may reduce its yearly $47 million power bill by 50%. Solar power would end up being Hawaii’s schools primary energy source. Installed rooftop solar arrays will also be a means to teach students about renewable energy. Ray L’Heureux, DOE assistant superintendent for facilities and support services, researched alternative energy projects all over the country (primarily solar) and says the Hawaii plan works, even if it has never been done before. “Nobody has done this yet to this size and scale,” he said. Hawaii’s school system is among many US-based school systems who are investigating solar panel installation. Indeed, more than two hundred elementary and secondary schools and university campuses in the United States have invested money into newly-installed photovoltaic systems with the hope of reducing electricity costs. Money saved (from electricity costs) would be put toward other expenses at a time when education funding is shrinking.

Schools Nationwide Going Solar

As of November 2012, 123 schools in California have solar power, and 40 more are installing the technology. 259 public and private schools in New Jersey are equipped with solar power. Arizona follows with 40 “on-line” schools. Earlier this year schools on Kauai and Oahu became the beneficiaries of solar power. Solar panels will be installed or have already been installed at nearly 40 schools.

No upfront costs were required by the DOE -- the pilots were developed under power purchase agreements. Under these agreements, a third-party financing company owns the solar power systems and sells the electricity to the department over the 20-year life of the agreement. The results show dramatically lower electric rates -- the DOE is paying 19 cents per kilowatt-hour on Oahu for power under the agreement, well below the 33.6 cents per kilowatt-hour Oahu residents paid this month. Schools in Kauai are paying 17 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with a residential rate of 44.9 cents a kilowatt-hour this month.

Hawaii is also home to one of the fastest growing residential solar panel installation markets due to the inexpensive cost.

Save Money, Save Energy

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