Direct System Ownership

Direct Ownership

About Direct Ownership

Some schools choose to purchase their solar systems outright. They then receive all of the electricity savings and available rebates for the systems. The district also retains rights to all of the associated solar renewable energy certificates (SRECs) or other local incentives, which can be sold to offset the cost of going solar or kept by the school so it can declare that the facility is powered by renewable energy.

The biggest benefit of direct ownership is that the school will see immediate savings on its utility bills. A disadvantage of the direct ownership model is that it requires that schools provide the funds for the system upfront, which may be difficult for districts that do not have large cash reserves. Direct ownership also means that, because schools do not pay taxes, they cannot take advantage of significant federal (and possibly state) tax credits. Federal tax credits can reduce the cost of a solar system by up to 50%.

Direct Ownership Models

Several different models exist for schools to own their systems outright.

Bake Sale Model

This approach uses a combination of grants and fundraising to cover the entire cost of a solar system. Once you’ve raised the funds, you contract with an installer to have the system installed. Your school does not sign any long-term contracts with the installer and you see an immediate decrease in the building’s electric bills that is proportional to the amount of energy offset by the solar system.

The bake sale model is a good fit for your school if:

  • Your proposed system is relatively small or your goal is to have a solar demonstration project (rather than offset a significant portion of your building’s electric use with solar). With small systems the total cost isn’t as high and it may be possible to fundraise the entire amount.
  • There are grants available to your school that would cover a significant portion of the cost. Sometimes local utilities, municipalities, or states offer grants for schools or nonprofits to go solar.
  • You are confident in your school’s ability to fundraise the cost of the system from parents, students, community members, local businesses, and other entities. Sometimes you only need to find a few large donors who are willing to make a significant contribution.  Or a lot of small donors!

Examples of schools that have used this approach:

Do-It-Yourself Model

Similar to the bake sale model, the DIY approach involves fundraising the cost of the system. Instead of paying an installer to put up the panels, though, a group of community members, parents, and teachers installs the panels themselves with the help of an installer.

This approach is a good fit for your school if:

  • A local installer is interested and willing to provide a discount on the system cost in exchange for help from community members during the installation.
  • Community members with solar installation or electrical experience are interested in helping with the project. 

Examples of schools that have used this approach:

State or Utility Solar Schools Programs

Some states, such as California, offer state-sponsored or utility-sponsored programs that provide schools with grants for solar systems. In the past, the PG&E Foundation, TXU Energy, and the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF) have contributed toward solar school installations around the US. Some of the installations are connected to teacher training and educational workshops. You can visit your local utility’s website or check out to see if they offer any utility grant programs for schools.