The Green Squad from the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Healthy Schools Network

 Fact Sheet: Solar Energy in Schools 

Remember that some areas of your school may be off-limits without permission from your teacher or principal, and some projects should be done with at least one partner. Check with your teacher before beginning any of the activities or projects listed here.

Why It Matters
The sun provides a clean and limitless supply of energy. Using solar power reduces the need for dirtier sources of power -- like coal, gas or oil -- and reduces pollution.

In the United States, we make most of our electricity by burning coal, gas and oil -- known as fossil fuels -- in power plants. This process is extremely dirty. In fact, it causes much of the world's pollution, including the kind that is creating global warming. In addition, to get oil, gas and coal, we must dig or drill in the ground or the ocean, causing more pollution and harming wildlife. And that's not all -- supplies of these fuels are limited. Someday, we could use them up.

But there's another source of energy that doesn't pollute and will never run out: the sun. Solar energy can be used in many ways. Sometimes it's as simple as keeping the shades up so sunlight can light or warm a room. In other cases, it involves installing devices that trap the sun's energy or convert it to electricity. Did you know that many small calculators and watches run on solar energy? That means you've probably already used solar electricity without even realizing it.

Solar energy falls into three main categories: solar photovoltaic electricity, passive solar and solar thermal energy. All of them produce energy without releasing pollution particles or chemicals into the air.

What Kids Can Do
Schools are an excellent place to use solar energy. For one thing, they're open during the day -- when the sun is out and when it's possible to get the most benefit from its power. And by showing solar power in action, schools can help educate the rest of the community about the benefits of this pollution-free energy source.

Schools can take advantage of solar energy in many ways. In some cases, school officials will have to do some research and invest in equipment. The next section gives some advice on how they can go about this.

You can increase your school's use of solar energy right away by allowing more natural light to filter into classrooms. You'll not only help your school use less electricity, you might even improve your grades! Several studies have shown that when schools use lots of natural light, students have better attendance records and do better on their schoolwork. But keep direct light away from blackboards and computer screens. (Otherwise, glare can make them hard to read.)

What Your School Can Do
Installing solar equipment at a school takes research and planning, as well as money. (Although your school might make the money back over time because of lower energy bills.)

But more and more schools are going solar, so administrators at your school can learn from their experiences. For information, visit Schools Going Solar or Solar Now.

Your school might qualify for money to help pay for solar equipment. Your state's energy office or public utility commission can provide information on any financial help that's available. Two other good places to check are the Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE) or the Million Solar Roofs Initiative financing page.

Project Ideas
Related Fact Sheets
Saving Energy in Schools
Schools, Lighting and Daylight

For more information
The Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy's kids page
Solar Now's kids and teacher's page
Solar Heating and You

The Green Squad is a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in collaboration with the Healthy Schools Network. © Natural Resources Defense Council.