How Many Schools In The Us Use Solar Energy?

Solar energy is becoming an increasingly popular source of power for schools across the United States. With concerns about climate change and energy costs on the rise, many school districts are looking to solar as a sustainable and cost-effective solution. The number of K-12 schools using solar energy has grown exponentially over the last decade. Today, solar powers thousands of schools across the country, providing clean renewable energy and financial savings. There are clear environmental and economic reasons for this growth. By switching to solar, schools can reduce their carbon footprint and electricity bills substantially. For many schools, going solar just makes sense.

Understanding the extent to which solar energy has penetrated the education system provides key insights into the future of renewable power. As centers of learning focused on youth and community development, schools play an outsized role in spreading awareness of solutions to global challenges. Their embrace of solar signals a shift toward wider adoption of clean energy nationwide. Tracking solar usage in schools allows us to comprehend a critical front in the fight against climate change. This information also helps us recognize leaders, document best practices, and identify needs going forward. In short, grasping the solar landscape in US schools sheds light on both the progress made and the work yet to be done in transitioning one of the nation’s biggest sectors to renewable energy.

Current State of Solar in US Schools

The use of solar power in U.S schools has grown significantly over the past decade. Approximately 4% of K-12 schools have installed solar, accounting for roughly 1.4 gigawatts of capacity. This represents nearly a tenfold increase since 2010, when just 0.4% of schools utilized solar. In the last 5 years alone, school solar capacity has doubled. As solar costs continue to fall and more financing options become available, adoption rates are expected to accelerate.

California leads the nation with over 1,000 K-12 schools using solar power. Other states with high penetration of school solar include New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts and New York. However, schools in states not typically associated with solar, like Minnesota, Vermont and Virginia, are beginning to adopt as well. This demonstrates solar’s increasing viability across the country.

While most school solar to date has been installed on high schools and administrative buildings, elementary and middle schools are starting to contribute more to growth. Rooftop systems are the most common, but ground-mount is gaining favor where space allows. Overall, the outlook is bright for the continued expansion of solar in U.S. schools in the years ahead.

Benefits of Solar for Schools

There are several significant benefits of adopting solar in US schools, three of the most important being cost savings, educational opportunities, and environmental benefits.

Having a solar photovoltaic system means schools will save money on their electricity bills. Solar provides free power once the installation cost is recouped, which can happen in less than 5 years in most cases. Those savings can be reinvested into educational programs, facilities, and other improvements. Solar also hedges against future electricity price increases.

Solar panels provide excellent hands-on learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Students can learn how solar cells work, monitor energy production from the school’s solar array, and understand concepts like renewable energy and sustainability. Some schools even incorporate solar curriculum into classes.

Using renewable solar electricity aligns with most school’s sustainability initiatives and reduces a school’s carbon footprint. Solar helps schools become environmental stewards and demonstrate leadership in green technologies. It also improves local air quality by avoiding fossil fuel emissions.

Challenges to Wider Adoption

Although solar energy offers many benefits for schools, there are some key challenges that have limited more widespread adoption across the US. The main obstacles schools face in transitioning to solar are the upfront costs, lack of incentives, and building codes/zoning issues.

The high initial investment required to install a solar system can deter schools with limited budgets. Panel and equipment costs, as well as installation and permitting fees, can run from tens of thousands to millions of dollars depending on the size of the school and desired solar capacity. Many schools lack access to financing options to help overcome these steep upfront costs.

There is also a lack of federal and state level incentives specifically targeted towards solar for schools. While residential solar often benefits from tax credits, rebates, and other subsidies, far fewer programs exist to offset the costs for public schools. The lack of policies promoting school solar energy leaves many schools without the extra financial support needed to adopt solar.

Finally, building codes, zoning laws, permitting processes and other local regulations can unintentionally discourage solar adoption. Rules regarding building aesthetics, use of land space, or even antiquated fire codes may restrict opportunities for school solar panels. Streamlining solar policies specifically for public schools could help remove these bureaucratic barriers.

Successful Case Studies

There are several excellent examples of schools and school districts across the country that have successfully implemented solar energy systems. Here are a few noteworthy case studies:

solar panels on school roof with students observing

Poudre School District, Colorado

The Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado has installed solar panels at 17 different schools. The 3.4 megawatts of solar panels installed are expected to provide nearly half of the district’s annual electricity needs, while also serving as an educational opportunity for students to learn about renewable energy.

Farmingdale School District, New York

With the help of state grants and incentives, the Farmingdale School District in New York installed a 1.4 megawatt system with solar panels on five school buildings and one bus depot. The district expects to save $250,000 annually on electricity costs.

Sebastopol Independent Charter School, California

This K-8 charter school in Northern California is nearly 100% powered by on-site solar panels. The school has integrated its solar panels into the curriculum to teach students about renewable energy. Students can monitor energy production through a real-time dashboard.

State Specific Data

When it comes to solar energy adoption in schools, some states are leading the way more than others. The top five states in the US for installed solar capacity at K-12 schools are California, Arizona, New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Together they account for over 60% of the total solar capacity at schools nationwide.

California far outpaces other states with over 540 megawatts of solar installed at over 1,000 K-12 schools. This represents nearly 30% of the total solar capacity at US schools. California has seen massive growth in school solar thanks to favorable policies, abundant sunshine and declining solar costs. Other states with over 50 megawatts of school solar include Arizona, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut, Oregon, Colorado and Illinois.

While sunnier states clearly have an advantage for solar, even some northern states like Massachusetts and New Jersey have seen significant adoption. State incentives, renewable energy goals and funding initiatives focused specifically on school solar have driven growth in top states.

Federal and State Policies

The federal government and many states have enacted policies and incentives to encourage solar adoption in schools. At the federal level, the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) provides a 26% tax credit for solar installations. The federal government also offers grants and funding opportunities through the Department of Energy and Department of Education to support solar projects. Many states complement these policies with additional incentives like rebates, tax exemptions, and renewable energy funds. For example, California has the Schools of the Future Program which offers funding for solar installations and energy efficiency upgrades. New Jersey offers rebates for schools installing solar through the SREC Registration Program. Overall, these types of policies and incentives have been crucial for enabling many schools to go solar despite tight budgets.

Future Outlook

The future looks bright for increased adoption of solar energy in US schools. Experts project rapid growth in the number of K-12 schools utilizing solar power over the next decade.

One major factor driving growth is the continued reduction in solar installation costs. As solar panel and battery technologies improve and manufacturing scales up, prices are expected to become increasingly competitive with conventional energy sources.

In addition, new solar innovations tailored to schools are entering the market. For example, solar canopies that double as shaded parking lots and playgrounds are gaining popularity. Roof-integrated solar shingles and windows are also emerging options.

With solar costs decreasing and new solar products focused on schools, it is likely we will see a surge in the number of educational institutions embracing solar power as a clean, renewable energy source that also provides long-term cost savings.

Overcoming Obstacles

There are several key strategies schools can utilize to overcome obstacles to adopting solar energy. Financing solar projects remains one of the biggest challenges, but there are creative options to secure funding. Rallying public support can also help drive adoption by increasing demand and political will.

Some strategies to expand solar energy adoption in schools include:

  • Pursuing power purchase agreements (PPAs), where a solar developer owns and operates the system and sells energy to the school at a fixed rate.
  • Leveraging bonds, loans, and grants to finance projects.
  • Forming partnerships between schools, local governments, and utilities.
  • Educating parents, teachers, staff, and students on the benefits of solar.
  • Transitioning to solar gradually by starting with a pilot installation.
  • Working with non-profits focused on solar for schools.

Financing is often cited as the biggest barrier, but there are ways for schools to pay for solar projects including:

  • Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing allows repayment through property taxes.
  • Power purchase agreements (PPAs) mean no upfront capital costs.
  • Grants and incentives can reduce overall costs.
  • Pool purchasing enables economies of scale.
  • Energy savings from solar can help pay down system costs.

Public support provides momentum for schools to adopt solar through:

  • Parent and community pressure on school boards and local government.
  • Student-led advocacy campaigns.
  • Partnerships with environmental and climate-focused non-profits.
  • Outreach to political representatives at all levels.
  • Media coverage and highlighting successful projects.

With smart strategies, creative financing, and public backing, schools can overcome obstacles and expand solar energy usage. This benefits students through valuable STEM education opportunities while saving schools money and reducing environmental impact.


In summary, while solar energy adoption in US schools has steadily increased over the past decade, there is still significant room for growth. Installing solar panels can provide schools with long-term cost savings, hands-on learning opportunities for students, and progress towards renewable energy goals. However, upfront costs and lack of funding remain challenges. Successful implementation will require innovative financing solutions, supportive policies, and strategic partnerships between schools, local governments, and solar providers.

Expanding solar energy in schools should be a priority given the benefits for education, the environment, and the larger community. All stakeholders must collaborate to make solar an affordable, accessible option. With smart strategies and determination, schools can lead the way in sustainability while providing students with skills needed for the clean energy workforce.

Schools should take advantage of any available funding mechanisms and incentives in their state or region. Educators, parents, and students themselves can advocate for pro-solar policies and leadership. By taking action today, we can power more schools with clean, renewable energy for current and future generations.

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