Schools: Inspiring Stewards of Our (Clean Energy) Future
By Savannah Kinzer
Today, it is hard to open any newspaper or scroll through a news feed without coming across alarming research on new and pervasive threats of climate change. The physical tolls are frightening—increased fires, flooding, and extreme heat.
Children, the most vulnerable of those affected, are realizing that they have inherited a world whose altered climate physically threatens them. We are now seeing young children across our world take to the streets, protesting government officials who are failing to support climate change legislation. But where the government remains stagnant, schools are leading the way and championing the fight against increasing global temperatures. The Solar Foundation, Generation 180, and SEIA conducted a report in 2017 highlighting that more than 5,480 schools across the U.S. have gone solar and 61% of them in just the five years before the report was published.
Going solar can offer school communities the opportunity to take concrete steps in the fight against climate change – reducing their energy costs while reducing carbon emissions – and provides a powerful visual teaching tool that can be incorporated into classroom instruction. As of February 2019, Sunwealth has worked with on-the-ground partners to develop solar installations at 7 schools and child care facilities, representing roughly 500 kilowatts (kW) of installed capacity. Our projects include a 20 kW installation on the roof of Sunnyside Child Care in Northampton, MA, a 197 kW system at World Learning Center in Brattleboro, VT, a 25 kW system at The Epiphany School in Dorchester and a 231 kW installation at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
In 2018, Sunwealth financed a project atop the Epiphany School, which has utilized their solar PV system to teach children about photovoltaics and energy production. Epiphany is an independent school for children of economically-disadvantaged families in Boston with financial aid for all students. Sunwealth saw the potential to provide savings for the school and an opportunity to incorporate solar into this community, creating a visual testament in the fight against climate change.
The power of these solar systems to serve as visual testaments should not be underestimated. Schools are a centerpiece in communities and provide a vehicle to demonstrate civic values. We entrust schools with the responsibility to create an environment where students can feel comfortable and safe, one that embodies stability, and a place where students can reach their greatest knowledge potential. Schools also act as a representation of the future, holding a shared responsibility in educating our children to one day lead the change that is needed in this country. Installing solar PV systems on schools stands as a testament to this system of values and is therefore tantamount to a trustworthy investment in our future generations.
As schools come to understand the multitude of solar benefits, it is often not long before their neighbors and parents of students begin to inquire about these benefits as well. Some of these benefits include cost savings, and due to schools’ large operating costs, solar can help them significantly save on their energy bill each year. Sunwealth spoke with Shawna Tobin, director of Sunnyside Child Care who says that, “This energy choice that we’ve made is something that helps us reduce our carbon footprint,” she says. “But the most attractive piece to us was the idea of savings to make room in our budget [for other expenses].” Sunnyside Child Care has five class rooms of children and hosts up to 68 kids per year, ranging from ages 18 months to five years old. Shawna hopes to put these energy savings towards classroom supplies and professional development, looking to “impact the quality of experience that the teachers and kids are having together in the classroom.”
Sunwealth believes that much of the hope in mitigating impacts of climate change lie largely in the fight of future generations, and schools are in the position to arm children for that fight. Teachers not only provide children with the knowledge and skills to create this future we envision; they also have the capacity to exemplify what a steward of our planet looks like by installing solar, inspiring future generations to follow. Providing significant cost savings, emission reductions, and learning opportunities, there is no clearer decision to be made. Going solar is investing in the future of energy and the future of our children.
About the Author
Savannah Kinzer is an Investment Associate Co-op at Sunwealth and a senior at Northeastern University. She is passionate about democratizing the renewable energy economy to provide an equitable and sustainable future for all.