Solar Schools: It's a Movement

The National Solar Schools Consortium launched yesterday at the opening of the widely-attended National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference. Still in its infancy, the goal of the Consortium is to act as a unified voice for the growing solar schools movement, promoting the use of solar energy on K-12 and post-secondary schools, consolidating and coordinating current and future solar curriculum and resource development, and providing tools designed to help schools explore solar energy options both on campus and in the surrounding community.

NRDC is proud to be a founding member of the Consortium, and our very own Jay Orfield serves on its Executive Committee. Nearly a year ago, NRDC’s SolarSchools initiative began with a handful of folks conducting due diligence to understand what was happening around the country to help schools go solar and who all was participating. We discovered two decades of solar schools history. We learned about large school districts that were saving millions of dollars by going solar and about schools that were using the sun to help teach hands-on lessons about science, technology, engineering and math. And we began developing relationships with the people and organizations behind the solar schools movement.

The people behind these projects varied as widely as the scale and the scopes of the projects themselves. There were teachers and students that garnered the support within their schools to go solar. There were developers working with school districts to build commercial-scale PV system. There were utility companies that donated demonstration-scale solar systems to local schools annually. There were organizations, small and large, all across the country whose mission it was to bring solar to schools. There were names of people and organizations that surfaced time and time again, and it soon became clear that there was a need to connect and unify the solar schools work that we were all doing, and the Consortium was born.

NRDC's SolarSchools initiative has been strengthened by our participation in the Consortium. It has helped us to understand unmet needs and to focus on addressing those that play to our strengths.

On the heels of our successful crowdfunding campaign, we have begun designing and building digital organizing tools to help parents and students connect, organize and gain approval for renewable energy projects at their schools. Our first generation of tools is scheduled to be complete by the end of May and we will begin to pilot them in an effort to prove that (1) there exists latent, distributed enthusiasm within communities to implement solar power projects that can be engaged in an ongoing and meaningful way, and (2) an organized and engaged community can accelerate the development of solar PV projects.

The digital tools are designed to help groups organize, and to walk them through the solar development process broken down into discrete and actionable tasks that can be performed by passionate and committed community members.

Our pilot begins in North Carolina due to its emerging leadership in solar development and its status as a “battleground” state, politically and in terms of achieving federal standards for carbon pollution.

Stay tuned. We’re making our way to a school near you.