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Minnesota launches solar schools program, joining a nationwide trend

Forty-five school districts will be awarded grants to cover up to 95% of the solar system's cost as part of Minnesota's new Solar for Schools Program.
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Minnesota will soon distribute $7.5 million in grants to up to 80 schools as part of the launch of a new program that is bringing solar power to campuses across the state.

The initiative is the latest in a nationwide push to expand solar's use on public school buildings, and to tap batteries in electric school buses for grid support.

Minnesota's Solar for Schools Program will cover up to 95% of a solar system's cost, depending on the school's financial need.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce selected 80 schools that are eligible to submit proposals for solar projects by May 31. Public K-12 schools, as well as state colleges and universities, are eligible to apply.

Each school that is selected will be awarded up to $114,000 to buy a solar system.

Currently, 60 schools in Minnesota have solar power on or near the campus, according to the agency. The Solar for Schools Program is on track to double the number of schools with solar.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce is requesting an additional $3 million in grant funds from the state legislature because of demand for the Solar Schools Program. Requests in the program's inaugural year exceeded $11 million.

Solar on schoolsCourtesy: Generation 180

More than 7,300 K-12 schools in the U.S. -- around 5.5% -- had installed solar power systems by 2020, according to the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. Schools have installed 1,337 MW of capacity with an average system size of 182 kW.

A report by Generation 180, IREC, and the Solar Energy Industries Association found that 79% of school solar systems were financed by a third party to alleviate pressures on school budgets by eliminating upfront capital costs.

Moreover, some school districts have experienced notable energy cost savings by installing solar. The Tuscon Unified School District in sunny Arizona expects to save $43 million on energy costs over 20 years. Batesville School District used the energy cost savings provided by solar to give teachers raises of up to $9,000, making the district one of the highest-paying in the country.

California, New Jersey, Arizona, Massachusetts, and Indiana lead on solar capacity developed at schools, the report noted.

Solar and electric school busesBy connecting the batteries of parked electric school buses to the grid, a first-of-its-kind electric school bus charging hub aims to provide enough backup power to support up to 10,000 homes. (Courtesy: Nuvve)

The electrification of school bus fleets presents opportunities for schools to maximize the role of their solar system. Buses are typically parked 50% of the time, leaving an opportunity for vehicle-to-grid (V2G) bidirectional charging.

V2G school buses provide an additional revenue stream for schools by allowing utilities to dispatch energy stored in the bus's battery at peak load times.

California, Maryland, and Florida lead the country in electric school bus adoption, though only 2% of American school districts have committed to one or more electric buses, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute.

“Students from low-income communities are particularly exposed: 60% of students from low-income families ride the bus to school… (and) communities of color are more likely to suffer from vehicle-based air pollution,” the authors wrote. “Electrifying the entire fleet of school buses can help address these health concerns and inequalities.”

Nuvve plans to build a hub with 200, fast-charging stations at Blue Bird Corporation's delivery facility in Fort Valley, Georgia. When parked, multiple buses can serve as a virtual power plant to create capacity of up to 25 MW, the company said.

The vehicle-to-grid hub aims to provide enough backup power to support up to 10,000 homes.

Last October, Highland Electric Fleets announced a "historic breakthrough" that an electric school bus in Beverly, Massachusetts successfully delivered power back to the electricity grid. It represented the first time an electric school bus was leveraged as an energy resource by the regional utility National Grid in New England and among the first instances in the U.S.

The bus discharged 3 MWh of electricity to curb peak demand 30 times, according to Highland, which provides the bus, chargers, and all electricity to Beverly Public Schools under a mileage-based subscription.

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