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Going to Solar High School

Future graduates at Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, California will have the distinct pleasure of turning their tassels beneath a solar rooftop. Indeed, by this time next year, a solar energy system already underway should be completed, grid connected and providing up to 70 percent of the campus’s electrical needs.

The Santa Ana Unified School District has given the green light and preliminary construction is in progress. In addition to environmental stewardship and unique educational opportunities, officials say the solar system will save the district as much as $3 million in its first five years.

The projected cost of the system is $12.5 million. Still, those savings will have an immediate effect on the school district’s budget, thanks to a mix of state grants and stimulus money to fund the project. In addition to the solar panels, the project will include a new roof, new heating and air conditioning, new swimming pool heating system and more energy upgrades.

Saddleback will be the first school in the area to incorporate such a large solar system. While they are not the first school to install solar panels in the nation, or even in California, it is no less inspiring to see schools going solar, especially at a time when school systems around the country are wrestling with massive budget cuts at the state level. The energy savings over time for Saddleback and other solar schools will be invaluable in helping to retain staff and programs.

Schools are, after all, primary candidates for solar power. Not only do they tend to have large, open roofs with high exposure to sunlight, but the school day happens to coincide with peak sunlight hours. In other words, the solar system will work hardest and most efficiently during school hours and through after-school activities. And in the summertime, it may even make enough electricity to sell some back to the grid. What better example could be set?

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