Solar Helping Educational Institutions Cope With Budget Cuts

U.C. Riverside will soon have its own 3 megawatt solar panel installation. Photo: Wikimedia user Amerique.
U.C. Riverside will soon have its own 3 megawatt solar panel installation. Photo: Wikimedia user Amerique.

One of the tragedies of the recession was that it resulted in steep cuts to educational institutions nationwide.

California in particular dealt with dramatic decreases in school funding at the primary, secondary and university levels, which led to shortened school years, fewer textbook purchases and higher tuition for college students. As a result, these institutions are constantly looking for ways to cut expenses in other areas so that the cuts will have a smaller impact on their students.

Solar Energy Rescues Schools from Budget Problems

Enter California solar energy. School campuses use a lot of power during the day, which leads to very high electricity costs that could be significantly offset by a greater reliance on renewable energy. Various renewable projects have been developed for campuses across the state, but the most viable technology for these purposes is definitely solar photovoltaic (PV).

Not only will switching to solar reduce energy expenditures, it will also provide students and faculty with a clean, renewable source of power that produces no carbon dioxide and helps educate students about the subject of sustainability.

Solar already has a presence on a number of campuses. In fact, the University of California, Riverside, will begin construction on a solar plant with a generating capacity of 3 megawatts (MW) this summer. Experts estimate that it will produce enough power to cover 30 percent of the school’s baseline electricity needs. The panels will take up 11 acres of land on campus, but they’ll be virtually invisible to the public, according to the school’s website.

UC Riverside Buys Cheaper, Cleaner Energy with a PPA

Now that the price of solar is competitive with electricity rates, UC Riverside decided that solar energy would be both the cleanest and most cost-effective energy to use. This is partly due to a power purchase agreement (PPA), which is a financing arrangement where the solar panels are owned by a third-party and the school purchases the electricity produced by the panels. PPAs typically provide a rate competitive with that of grid electricity.

The best part is that UC Riverside’s solar plant has the potential save the school $4.3 million over the course of the 20-year PPA. That’s money that can be repurposed for other projects, including expanding the school to accommodate more students and hiring more professors to teach them.

Of course, schools weren’t the only entities affected by the recession. Many homes, businesses and other public institutions took a big hit when the economy went south. This is why solar is such a vital resource: It provides a terrific money saving opportunity at a time when people are still looking to cut back on whatever expenses they can.