Schools Go Solar

September 20, 2017
Students in Reno, Nevada, pose behind their school’s solar panels.
BLACK ROCK SOLAR

There are lots of trees near the public schools in Sheridan, Indiana. Their leaves soak up sunlight, which they turn into energy.

In Sheridan, the sun fuels more than just plants. It keeps schools running, too. Environmentally friendly solar panels harness the power of sunbeams and turn it into energy. When the sunlight hits a solar panel, tiny particles in the panel called electrons start to move around. This creates usable electricity.

The science behind solar energy is not new. But Sheridan Community Schools is the first school district in Indiana to be completely solar-powered. The district finished installing solar panels for all three of its schools in 2016. Some of the panels can turn to follow the sun across the sky. “We were able to put in enough panels that we can power all of our buildings,” Doug Miller, superintendent of Sheridan Community Schools, told TFK.

Sheridan’s solar push is part of a trend. In 2008, fewer than 1,000 schools used solar power. By 2014, there were 3,727 schools with solar panels in the U.S. This data comes from a report by the Solar Foundation, an organization that promotes the use of solar power. Roxie Brown, a program director there, told TFK that the number of schools with solar panels has continued to rise since 2014.

Costs and Benefits

Solar power has some notable advantages over other energy sources. Sunlight is a renewable resource, which means it won’t run out. Solar panels don’t harm the environment. Also, sunlight is free. So by using solar power, schools can save money on energy costs over time.

Brown thinks more schools should run on solar power. “The sun is [Earth’s] energy source,” she says. “We’re trying to make it the energy source for our houses, cars, and schools, too.”

But switching to solar power isn’t always easy. Solar panels can be expensive to install. Miller says Sheridan Community Schools had to borrow money to pay for its solar transition. The panels also take up space.

But for many schools, going solar is worth it. “I think the benefits outweigh the drawbacks,” Miller says.

Workers install solar panels on the roof of an elementary school in Denver, Colorado.

JIM WEST—ALAMY

A Bright Future

The use of solar energy can also help students learn about electricity and environmental issues. Teachers at schools that use solar power often incorporate it into their science lessons. “The kids talk about it in the classroom. Then they can go look at it in action,” Miller says. According to Brown, the educational impact of solar panels is “the most compelling reason” for schools to install them.

Miller hopes the panels will give Sheridan students a global perspective. “The world is bigger than the boundaries of our school district,” he says. “We’re doing things to help the world as a whole.”