Go the Extra Mile Introduction - Planning & Financing for On-site Renewable Energy Systems
How to decide on a plan
So, your school is interested in the possibility of installing solar panels, a
wind turbine, or geothermal pumps? But, how the heck do you go about doing
something like that?
Every school in the country has a tight budget, so you’re going to think about
money first, right? You not only need to decide what will be economically
feasible for you, but how do you convince fellow school administrators and tax
payers that it’s worth it?
But, before you even start crunching numbers, you want to have the lowest energy
demand possible so that whatever project you take on will be as small and least
expensive as possible. In other words, make sure your school has undergone
energy conservation campaign
. Schools can often cut out a large fraction of their
electricity demand through no or low-cost solutions
. Then, whether you consider solar, wind, or another energy
source, the system you’ll need to install can be less extensive, and therefore,
Once you’ve taken the action to conserve energy and reduce your overall
consumption, there are important factors to consider in whether or not you
should invest in an energy source and which one to invest in.
Consider what funding incentives are available to you locally and nationally? Sometimes these opportunities are
only available for a particular type of energy source, like solar, for example.
Furthermore, they may only be available for a specific type of solar, like solar
What will the payback period be for each potential energy system? The
“payback period” considers how much money you’ll save on energy costs over time
and is an estimation of how many years it will take for the system to pay for
Is there net-metering available? “Net-metering”
is a system where you can send extra energy you produce directly to the grid for
credit. In return, that credit provides you with electricity during the
night or other times when you can’t produce enough to meet your needs. It
reduces or eliminates the need for a battery, and is currently available in 35
states! To see if it’s available in your state and what the details are,
Table of State and Utility Net-Metering Rules from the Interstate Renewable
Remember that with renewable
energy, it’s not one type fits all. Although wind and solar power are
versatile in that these can be effectively used in many areas around the
country, it’s good to find out if there is enough energy available for your
specific needs, and which one may be the smartest to use in your particular
area. The Dynamic Maps
from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory show where the richest resources
are for solar, wind, and biomass. The maps are a bit complicated to use, so make
sure you read the
directions here. If you’re interested in geothermal, check out
this map from the Geo-Heat
Center. Just looking at the maps will not be enough to make an informed
decision, however. You’ll want to conduct an assessment of the potential
energy source you’re considering. More information about assessing feasibility is available under
each specific energy source section.
While developing your plan, you’ll have to find an answer for all the objections
and concerns you’ll likely face from fellow administrators and taxpayers in the
community. Questions you’ll likely face might include:
Is the renewable energy system you’re considering credible? Does it
actually work and will it actually produce enough energy?
How much of the electricity demand can reasonably be expected to come from the
on-site renewable source?
Will the energy system stand up to the test of time and weather?
Will maintenance personnel receive training on how to operate and fix the
system, and if not, will a contractor be hired to complete those tasks?
How will you protect the investment and ensure that the system operates to its
full potential? Will you use
You’ll be able to answer these questions after studying the energy source you’re
considering by using the resources we present later under each specific type of
It will also be helpful to brainstorm a list of benefits that decision-makers
may overlook. For example...
It can give you energy independence from the volatile market of constantly
changing electricity prices. And remember that some of these systems, like
solar and geothermal, can not only produce electricity, but also heat, meaning
that you could avoid the rising prices of natural gas, propane, or oil as well.
You might not be affected by blackouts if you produce enough electricity from
your system to meet your needs.
An on-site renewable energy system doesn’t have to produce all the electricity
you need in order to save you money in the long-run. Not only will you be
producing at least a portion of clean, cheap energy, but you could save even
more by connecting the power system to the grid. First, you could ensure
that you don’t go over the “base rate,” in a
tiered rate system
where utilities charge extra when your building exceeds the set base rate.
Second, if your utility offers
(Time-of-Use Metering), then the price of electricity varies according to
the time of day or the season. Wind and especially solar power systems
could produce most of their output during this time, meaning that you would
purchase the least amount of your electricity from the grid when it’s most
expensive. This equals savings!
Dig up all the environmental benefits you can find with the help of our
Knowledge Section. For example, having an
on-site renewable energy source not only helps fight global warming by reducing
greenhouse gases, but also cuts down significantly on the numerous other
pollutants that power plants produce like
dioxide, which contributes to
and respiratory problems, and
mercury, which is linked to neurological and developmental disorders.
The school’s environmental stewardship can serve as a lasting role-model for
Having an on-site renewable energy source gives students a unique opportunity to
learn about energy technology and environmental impact first hand. Our
curriculum library can help teachers in your school find quality curriculum
to accompany the project you take on.
Students can take pride in the school, and this can inspire them to take better
care of it and also spread their pride to parents and to the greater community.
Going green is great for public relations, making the whole community proud.
For more benefits to win over decision-makers, check out the
Key points for a Winning Argument from the Department of Energy and scroll
to the bottom of the page.
These guides are mostly for making a new or existing building as efficient
energy-wise and waste-wise as possible, considering more than just on-site
renewable energy toward that goal. But, most of the concepts presented in
these documents will prove useful in planning, financing, and setting benchmarks
no matter how small your project is:
Oh no! Where’s the funding?
Guides for Financing
Funding Opportunities from the State & Federal Government
Funding Opportunities from Non-profits
Local funding opportunities
Planning Concepts and Steps from EnergySmart Schools
Building Blocks by
the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships is a little more detailed, but
still only explains the basic topics to consider in designing and implementing
an upgrade strategy or undergoing new green construction.
The Advanced Energy
Design Guide for K-12 School Buildings provides an approach to achieve 30%
energy savings in your school considering many different types of energy
improvements. The guide can be downloaded after filling out your school’s
Funding organizations for specific renewable technologies
The Database of State Incentives for
Renewables & Efficiency not only points out local funding incentives, but
also provides local rules, regulations, and state policies that could influence
Many state governments and local organizations have their own databases for
local financial incentives, so it pays to do some research. For example,
Maryland’s Energy Administration has
this helpful state
Many organizations or databases provide information about financial incentives
specifically for a particular type of energy, like solar. Links to these
places are mentioned in each of their respective
on-site renewable energy
Many schools have successfully used “performance contracting” for general energy
efficiency upgrades such as replacing heating system components or renovating
the building envelope. But some performance contractors have recently done
on-site renewable energy projects like geothermal heat pump and solar hot water
“Performance contracting” is when a company comes into the school and focuses on
conserving energy in a program to reduce energy costs. A certified
performance contractor (known as an ESCO) takes on the technical and financial
aspects of an energy project and assumes the financial risks associated with the
project because they guarantee the energy savings. To find out more about
how an ESCO can help finance your energy project, click
For more information about how to use an ESCO in your school, read the
Guide for Performance Contracting in Schools
by the DOE. And to see
how other schools have already benefited, check out
Energy Performance Contract Case Studies
by Jessica Lefevre of the DOE.
Plan for and track the project’s progress with the help of Portfolio Manager
To search for a certified performance contractor in your area, click here.
Energy Star’s Portfolio
can help your district keep track of all energy and waste systems in
buildings district-wide. It can also help you weigh different options for
potential energy improvements. Then, once you undertake a project, like
installing Photovoltaic solar panels,
you track the productivity and impact of the project.