Is solar a good fit for my school?

Is solar a good fit for my school?

Two key concerns for any school interested in going solar are the safety and quality of the installation. At minimum, your building should:

  • Face due south, to maximize the amount of sunlight the panels collect.
    • If your pitched roof does not face south, you can still use a solar electric system, but the performance will be about 5% less with a southeast- or southwest-facing system. Eastern, western, and northern exposures are not recommended for solar electric systems. Flat roofs facing any direction are a good fit for solar, since the panels can be adjusted to face due south.
  • Remain unshaded between 9am and 3pm.
    • The portions of the roof where solar will be installed should be free of shade for most of the day, as shade can significantly reduce electricity production.
  • Have adequate space for panels.
    • A solar electric system needs about 100 square feet of unshaded south-facing roof or yard space for every kilowatt of system capacity. So, a 1 kW system requires 100 square feet, while a 15 kW system would need 1,500 square feet. Thin-film systems may require 175 square feet of space per kilowatt of capacity.
  • Have a roof that is in good repair and less than 15 years old.
    • If your roof is more than 15 years old, your school may want to consider replacing it when you purchase the system. Most solar vendors recommend using roofing material that will last as long as the system, which is about 25 to 30 years. 
  • Be up to code and able to handle the weight of solar panels.
    • Some states have a site selection survey that can help in the decision process, and the EPA has a website guide with information about pre-screening a site for solar PV development.

If your roof is not a good fit for a system, it is possible to install ground-mounted panels in an open space or awnings to provide shade in your parking lot. These types of systems tend to be more expensive (about 20% more in total cost) than roof-mounted systems, but they have the added benefit of providing parking lot shade or allowing you to avoid having to upgrade your school’s roof.