Over the last 20 years, dozens of schools have installed renewable energy systems. Most of these installations have been in the last few years.
Each school’s story has been unique, with process and type of renewable energy systems ranging from large wind turbines generating most of the school’s energy to small solar systems that are designed to be portable educational tools only. While each school’s story is unique, most of these school projects share some common elements, including successes, barriers and dilemmas.
Intent of this Guide: This guide describes a process that will help schools learn from the experiences of other schools, identify clear goals and provide tools to achieve those goals. The guide provides a step-by-step approach to help navigate the sometimes obscure process of creating a successful renewable energy project that meets the school’s educational, sustainability, fiscal and environmental goals. This guide lays out a general process, but also provides examples of details and technical information, as well as educational, financial, and technical resources available to schools. Readers need to be aware, however, that the renewable energy landscape is evolving rapidly and the resources noted in this guide will also change. The guide’s emphasis, therefore, is on helping identify types of resources rather than specific programs, curricula or grants. This guide specifically focuses on wind and solar systems.
Helping communities meet community goals: This guide is not a sales pitch for renewable energy systems. Similarly, the guide does not develop the case for local action on climate change, energy planning or renewable energy school curriculum. Local priorities have been or will be set by local stakeholders. This guide is designed to help communities meet their local priorities, such as reducing the carbon footprint, moving toward energy independence, diversifying energy risk, utilizing local energy resources or educating the next generation on the principles of renewable energy. That these pathways are discussed is not advocacy of these goals, but intended to recognize that different communities have chosen to pursue renewable energy projects for different reasons.
Audience for this Guide: The primary audience for the guide is non-technical people (teachers, administrators, students) who see renewable energy as helping to meet their community’s goals and who see the synergy of integrating renewable energy into school facilities, curriculum and community relations. The information and recommendations within are directed at parents, teachers and administrators who have made the decision to use renewable energy, but need to avoid pitfalls in resource assessment, financing, installation and curriculum development. A renewable energy project cannot, however, move forward without addressing a host of issues (educational, financial, bureaucratic, engineering). The guide is written to help a non-technical team engage and work with technical assistance providers, but is not intended to displace the role or knowledge of technical experts. The guide is also not an educational tool for technical service providers who are entering the renewable energy field or a substitute for an experienced construction manager.
Recognizing breadth of community needs: Different types of schools and school districts will have dramatically different financial resources, staff capabilities and access to renewable energy. This guide provides information that will be helpful to communities with larger school systems (those more likely to have staff and financial resources) and small schools with more limited resources. Some of the information will be relevant only to some schools and not every contingency is addressed. Consequently, each school needs to adapt the general process described here to the school’s local conditions, resources, financial realities and technical capabilities. Some schools will have internal technical capability to scope, bid and oversee installation of renewable energy systems. Other schools will have virtually no such internal capability. Financial and educational considerations are similarly varied across Minnesota schools. Some steps in this guide will be less relevant and some more critical, depending on local conditions.
- Understanding Opportunities and Limitations
- Evaluating the Site and Resource
- Curriculum Integration
- Funding and Financing Alternatives
- Bidding and Managing the Installation