Convincing Your School to Go Solar

How do I convince my school or district to go solar?

It can be a little overwhelming to think about taking your school or district solar, especially if your building is large or there is a lot of bureaucracy. But never fear! You can make the process easier by being strategic about how you approach the project. The following are some general suggestions for getting started. This guide by the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society is also an excellent resource.

Step One: Join forces.

Taking a school solar is a fairly involved process. You’ll need to get buy-in from various entities within the school district, such as the schools administration, the school board, community members, and facilities personnel. It is therefore a good idea to create a committee of solar champions who can work on this project together. Spread the word that you’re interested in exploring solarization and see who wants to join you. It’s likely that some teachers, parents, community members, administrators, or others in your community already share your vision. Also, don’t forget to include students. They are the best advocates for a project like going solar—and the process of being involved will be inspiring and educational for them and keep the grownups focused and committed!

Step Two: Identify your goal and create a plan.

Once you’ve assembled a group of dedicated solar champions, identify what you would like to accomplish by going solar. Do you want to create a demonstration panel so students can see how solar works? Or do you want the school to get a significant portion of its energy from solar? Your goal might impact the size and scope of the project. For example, you could have a demonstration panel installed on the front lawn of the school for classes to use in their curriculum. This would be a much smaller (and less expensive) project than covering the entire roof with enough solar panels to offset much of the school’s electric bills.

Once you’ve identified your goal, take a few minutes to outline a plan for achieving this goal. Who needs to approve and sign off on the project before it can start? Is there anyone in the school’s administration you think would be a champion for solar? Anyone who might be a barrier? Is your building going to be renovated soon, or are there other structural issues that might get in the way of a project?

It doesn’t make sense plan the entire project, since things will change as you start moving forward, but it’s useful to begin thinking strategically about how to be most effective as you begin the solarization process.

Step Three: Do a basic site assessment to see if solar is a good fit for your building.

It’s good to get a general sense of whether or not your building will be a good fit for solar. Before installing a system, a solar installer will do a more thorough engineering assessment of the roof, but your building needs to meet a few basic criteria before you reach that point. Check out the “Is Solar A Good Fit For My School” section of the guide for more details.

It is also useful to look at one year of electric bills for your school or district. This allows you to determine how much power your facility uses and how much a solar system could offset.

Step Four: Hold some exploratory meetings.

Once you’ve made sure your building meets the basic requirements for going solar, hold some exploratory meetings with school administrators and facility managers to present the idea of going solar. This is a good opportunity to get their feedback on solarization and whether they might be interested in exploring a project. This initial meeting is also a chance to identify any clear barriers that would make a project insurmountable (such as major issues with the roof, or plans to renovate the building in a few years). The meeting will give you a sense of any concerns the administration might have about solar, as well as questions they will need answered in order to consider a project.

For exploratory meetings you should bring basic information on solar energy and how solar panels can help schools save money on utility bills.

Step Five: Gather information about the project to present to decision makers.

Compiling and presenting financial and technical information about a potential solar installation will be helpful in convincing your school’s administration to go solar.  Topics to cover include: the cost of a system, payback period, incentives, solar technologies, and why your school’s roof is a good fit for solar. You may need to have multiple meetings with administrators to provide them information, answer questions and identify concerns, and then return later with follow-up information.

Step Six: Build public support for the project.

As you are meeting with school administrators and decision-makers, you also need to build public support for the project. Your group can hold public meetings, present information about solar energy to students and parents, community members, and other key stakeholders, and solicit feedback. This is also a good time to launch a fundraising campaign, if necessary.

Step Seven: Secure approval for the project.

After you’ve held a number of exploratory meetings with school and district administrators, your next step will be to secure administrative or board approval for the solar project. The level of approval you’ll need depends on the school; during one of your initial exploratory meetings with administrators you should ask them about the process for getting a project approved. Don’t be discouraged if this takes a while. Often administrators or decision makers support the idea of going solar, but are busy with more pressing issues and can’t devote the time or energy necessary to drive the process forward. Your group of solar supporters should keep this in mind as you gently push to move things forward. It is possible to go solar!