The report card is in, and thousands of U.S. schools are bringing home straight A’s for going solar.
In a comprehensive, first-of-its-kind study released today, America’s K-12 schools have shown explosive growth in their use of solar energy over the last decade, soaring from 303 kilowatts (kW) of installed capacity to 457,000 kW, while reducing carbon emissions by 442,799 metric tons annually—the equivalent of saving 50 million gallons of gasoline a year or taking nearly 100,000 cars off U.S. highways.
Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools was prepared by The Solar Foundation (TSF)—with data and analysis support from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)—and funded through a grant provided by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program.
The Solar Foundation’s report is the first nationwide assessment of how solar energy helps to power schools in communities across America. Most importantly, the report shows that thousands of schools are already cutting their utility bills by choosing solar, using the savings to pay for teacher salaries and textbooks. What’s more, the report estimates that more than 70,000 additional schools would benefit by doing the same.
Here are the report’s key findings:
- There are 3,752 K-12 schools in the U.S. with solar installations, meaning nearly 2.7 million students attend schools with solar energy systems.
- The 3,727 PV systems have a combined capacity of 490 megawatts (MW), and generate roughly 642,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity each year, which represents a combined $77.8 million per year in utility bills—an average of almost $21,000 per year per school.
- Despite this promising progress, solar potential remains largely untapped. Of the 125,000 schools in the country, between 40,000 and 72,000 can “go solar” cost-effectively.
And if you think that’s good news, then get a load of this: An analysis performed for this report found that 450 individual school districts could each save more than $1,000,000 over 30 years by installing a solar PV system. That’s right—a million bucks!
In a time of tight budgets and rising costs, solar can be the difference between hiring new teachers—or laying them off. Just as importantly, solar is also helping to fight pollution, providing hope for our children, as well as for future generations of children.
The new report also found:
- More than 3,000 of the 3,752 systems were installed in the last six years. Between 2008 and 2012, solar installations on U.S. schools experienced a compound annual growth rate of 110 percent.
- Nearly half of the systems currently installed are larger than 50 kilowatts (kW) and 55 schools have systems that are 1 megawatt (MW) or larger. About a quarter of the PV systems at schools are smaller than 5 kW.
- As schools system sizes increase, so too does the incidence of third-party ownership.
- Excluding small demonstration systems, the median system size of K-12 school PV systems was found to be 89 kW (approximately equal to 18 average residential solar PV systems).
As is the case with the solar industry at large, the report found that more schools are going solar as installation costs decrease. According to the SEIA/GTM Research U.S. Solar Market Insight report, by the second quarter of this year, national blended average system prices had dropped 53 percent since 2010.
So anyway you look at it—from economics to innovation to the environment—more and more U.S. schools deserve high marks for their commitment to America’s future.
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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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