Sustainability in Schools

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According to the U.S. Department of Education, jobs requiring STEM backgrounds are currently growing four times faster than the overall job growth trend. Many of these jobs are originating from the booming renewable energy industry. In the first quarter of 2016, approximately 3.4 million Americans were employed directly by the clean energy industry, and the sector’s rapid growth provides ideal job opportunities for those who are prepared with an education in STEM and sustainability. Schools have been rapidly responding to this job market demand; the National Council for Science and Education reports that from 2006 to 2012, sustainability programs offered at four-year colleges and universities in the United States grew from 1 to over 140 designated programs. The importance of teaching sustainability is clear, and how better to teach it than by practicing it as well?

Exposure to sustainability initiatives, such as a solar array, can motivate students and generate interest in careers in the renewable energy industry. A solar project can also enrich a school’s science curriculum, providing students a first-hand experience with green technology and a better understanding of energy generation. Additionally, students are increasingly making their higher education enrollment decisions based on the specific institution’s sustainability initiatives. A 2008 study by The Princeton Review indicated that 63% of prospective college students valued having information about a college’s commitment to the environment. Sustainable practices are not only a matter of interest, but also a decision-making factor for many students.

Yet students are not the only ones to benefit from a solar system at their school; schools are electing to go solar because of the significant benefit to their finances. Installing solar has significantly decreased schools’ electricity costs and shields them from fluctuating energy prices. An integrated solar and storage system can also protect schools in the case of emergencies or electricity outages. Recently, these benefits have been amplified by the falling cost of PV systems. In their “2017 Brighter Futures Report,” the Solar Foundation reported that the cost of solar PV installations at schools has fallen over 67% in the last 10 years.

With the benefits to school finance and growing demand of student interest, going solar seems like an easy choice. Yet many educational institutions in the U.S. have made only moderate advancements in their sustainability initiatives. While recycling has become a campus norm, most educational institutions stop there. Numerous energy efficiency and energy production strategies have become economically profitable in recent years, but as of 2017, only 4.4% of schools in the U.S. have installed a solar PV installation (Solar Foundation’s “2017 Brighter Futures Report”). While the represented schools educate 3.9 million students annually, the majority of students are still missing out on the valuable experience of seeing renewable energy at work on their campus.  

The new Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in New York City serves as a model for the seamless integration of sustainability initiatives and STEM education at its 12-acre urban campus.  EnterSolar developed the 850kW solar system on the rooftop of the Bloomberg Center and The Bridge. The system powers the Bloomberg Center and serves as a shading canopy to The Bridge’s rooftop deck. As the largest system in Manhattan, it adds to the functionality of both buildings, furthering the ambitious sustainability initiatives of Cornell Tech. The project was financially supported by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) under the $1 billion NY-Sun initiative to advance the scale-up of solar generated electricity in New York State. Cornell Tech was successful in its mission of creating an urban and sustainable campus that encourages creativity and learning.

EnterSolarEDU provides a turnkey solar solution for educational institutions, in addition to materials and resources to support a green curriculum. We’ve worked with notable universities, such as Cornell Tech and Fordham University, as well as leading preparatory schools, such as The Kent School and Cardinal Spellman High School. If you are interested in going solar at your school, you can visit our website to learn more: www.entersolaredu.com.

Fordham University’s Rose Hill Community Solar Project

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Fordham University is a shining example of a school leading the transition to a renewable energy future. They are utilizing an innovative NY-State incentive called remote net metering, which credits their campuses for the clean energy generated at an off-site solar system. The off-site solar installation on Staten Island generates energy equivalent to offsetting 20 percent of the University's electricity consumption and 37 percent of Fordham Preparatory School’s consumption. But their sustainability efforts have not stopped there. Fordham’s latest solar initiative is a community solar project atop their Rose Hill Parking Garage that will allow the local community to share in the benefits of the clean energy.

In the community solar project model, the value of the system’s energy production is shared with the Fordham community (faculty, staff, alumni, etc.) who participate as “subscribers.” Households within the same utility territory can easily opt in, whereupon a portion of the solar project is allocated to them based on their monthly electricity consumption. As the solar system generates energy, the subscriber receives credits that offset the cost of his or her monthly electricity bill. The community solar model also allows subscribers of the Rose Hill Community Solar Project to benefit from guaranteed cash savings on their Con Edison bill every month.

This solar photovoltaic system enables Fordham’s community to participate in a renewable energy project without having to install a solar array themselves. This is an especially attractive opportunity for people who may not have roof space or property with optimal on-site solar potential. Fordham hosts the Rose Hill system in the Bronx, and it provides the benefits of clean energy to participants throughout all five boroughs of New York City and Westchester County.

The project is also a highly visible statement of Fordham’s commitment to sustainability. Now, more than ever, students are expecting their schools to reduce their carbon footprints in noticeable ways. Hosting a solar system on campus provides the students first-hand experience with photovoltaic technology, and schools can even integrate the project into their engineering and environmental science curricula to enhance the academic experience.

Fordham University’s solar initiatives show how a school’s sustainability efforts can benefit its student body and extend beyond the campus to enrich its local community. Educational institutions are at the cutting edge when it comes to developing and implementing renewable energy, and EnterSolar can help make the transition to solar easy and seamless. We have partnered with universities, such as Fordham University and Cornell Tech, as well as leading preparatory schools, including The Kent School, Cardinal Spellman High School and Fordham Preparatory School to provide them with turnkey solar solutions. Our experienced team guides clients through the various solar financing options, provides expert designing and engineering, manages the installation, and offers operations and maintenance services. Contact us today to learn more about community solar and how it might fit into your school’s sustainability efforts.