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Solar 101: Harnessing the Sun to Power Your Mission

The number of school districts and local governments installing onsite solar panels has skyrocketed in the last decade. And for good reason! Solar power can help public sector organizations dramatically cut energy costs, increase resiliency against extreme weather events, provide STEM education and green job opportunities, and bolster economic development.

With a flood of new funding available from the federal government, coupled with growing volatility in energy prices, there has never been a more financially viable time to embrace solar power. Here’s everything you need to know to get started finding the right solution for your organization.

Why solar now

It has become common knowledge over the last decade that solar power is a proven solution to significantly reduce energy costs, especially with rising, increasingly volatile utility rates across the US. Coupled with the educational and environmental benefits of onsite solar, the only major deterrent stopping most public organizations from pursuing solar power has been cost.

But now, new funding methods are removing that barrier. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law both created a plethora of grants and incentives to help public entities pursue clean energy projects. In particular, the IRA makes the clean energy Investment Tax Credit (ITC) available to school districts, local and state government agencies, and other public entities for the first time. These organizations can now receive a direct rebate of 30% (or more!) for installing onsite solar.

It can be complex to navigate the regulations surrounding these funding avenues. Partnering with an experienced engineering partner can help organizations cut through the red tape and ensure compliance. To find out how much your school district or community could save with solar, get in touch here.

Related Reading: Investment Tax Credit Funding Now Available to Public Entities

Funding your goals with solar

When planning for how you’ll budget for a solar installation, think beyond just paying for panels. Harnessing solar power can be a powerful economic lever to enable your core mission.

One commonly used project financing method is to stack clean energy grant, rebate and incentive programs to turn a solar installation into a cost-effective, far-reaching investment. The process looks like this: First, public organizations utilize regional and federal solar grants, or a financing option like an ESPC, to guarantee payback of upfront costs over time. Once construction is complete, ITC direct pay and/or utility rebates put a percentage of those funds back into their budgets. Then in the long term, organizations recoup their investment by saving significantly on electricity bills, especially when onsite solar panels are coupled with energy efficiency upgrades as part of an ESPC. Solar panels can even become an additional source of revenue via net metering agreements, in which local utilities pay for any extra energy generated by onsite solar generation.

Imagine how you could utilize ongoing energy savings to make your goals into a reality. Here are some stories from schools and local governments we have worked with around the country to reinvest their solar energy savings into high-impact initiatives.

    

Addressing common myths about solar

While the potential of solar is undeniable, misperceptions can cloud the benefits for some. Let’s fact check some common myths about solar:

Myth #1: Solar panels are only viable in sunny climates.

Today’s solar panels are designed to capture both direct and diffused light. That means solar panels still generate electricity on cloudy days— albeit at a reduced efficiency compared to sunny days. The exact amount of electricity generated will depend on the thickness of cloud cover, but a good rule of thumb is to expect solar panels to produce 10-25% of their normal output on a cloudy day.

So while it’s certainly true that some places will generate more solar power than others, don’t let the weather deter you from exploring your options. Our experts can help you determine your solar viability and design the right solution for your needs.

Myth #2: Solar panels require a lot of costly maintenance.
While it’s true that older solar systems may have needed more attention, that’s not the case with today’s technology. Modern solar panels are designed to be weather resistant and operate for decades. And with very few moving parts, they generally require little maintenance to function reliably.
Myth #3: My roof is too small, or too old, to handle solar panels

Experienced solar engineers will start by carefully evaluating your roof as part of proposing, designing, and building a solar array. Should there be any repair needs, they can be tackled upfront to guarantee the durability of both your roof and the solar panels.

If your roof isn’t right for solar panels, there are a variety of other great options to consider. Ground-mounted solar panels can be designed as parking lot solar canopies to provide shade to parked cars. Other options include SmartFlower arrays that track the sun throughout the day, solar charging stations and shade awnings for pedestrians, solar street lights, or even solar-powered outdoor classroom environments

Myth #4: Solar is bad for the environment

Solar panels are a clean and renewable source of energy that can significantly reduce carbon emissions. However, many people have concerns about the environmental impact of producing new solar panels, or of disposing of solar panels at the end of their life cycle. The good news is that solar panels have been shown to typically offset the energy used to manufacture them in under four years of operation. Additionally, monocrystalline solar panels are made of sand, silver, and aluminum. These materials are non-toxic and are reusable, recyclable, or safe to be disposed of in landfills.

Related Reading: How New IRA Tax Provisions Can Bring Solar Energy to Life for Schools

Designing a comprehensive solar project

As you begin the process of designing a solar project, take your broader goals into account. It’s a no-brainer to expand the impact of your solar investment by installing it alongside other solutions that optimize building performance, solve multiple problems at once, and maximize savings and available funding.

So, what else do you want to get done? Some great options include:

  • Lower your baseline energy costs – A great benefit of coupling solar panels with other energy conserving technologies such as LED lighting, HVAC upgrades, and building automation is that you’re reducing a building’s overall energy consumption. Then, the solar array can be right-sized for the new, lower energy baseline.
  • Ramp up emergency preparedness – Solar is an excellent vehicle to improve resilience against extreme weather and power outages. Reinvest energy savings into modernizing and weatherizing buildings, plus addressing deferred maintenance on critical infrastructure. Then, embrace technologies like microgrids and battery storage along with onsite solar to reduce reliance on the grid.
  • Future-driven community engagement – With access to data and insights from their own solar installations, solar-powered schools allow students to engage in real-world, hands-on STEAM learning that prepares them for the energy landscape of tomorrow. For communities, solar is an excellent differentiator to attract new residents and investments, plus build civic pride.
  • Make wish-list facility improvements – Reinvest your energy savings to fund the wish-list projects that are currently beyond your reach. From restoring historic buildings, to campus security upgrades, to creating state-of-the-art athletic facilities, taking a holistic approach to energy management and capital planning can fund transformational change.

To learn more about how Schneider Electric can work with you to maximize the impact of your solar installation, visit perspectives.se.com/solar-impact