The first time we heard of Greta Thunberg skipping classes on Fridays to stage protests, the world was shocked. A teenager sitting outside her country’s parliament weekly because of climate change? But Greta’s actions launched a new wave. Young people raised their voices from different parts of the globe. Many others started to ask “Will climate change affect me?”. Or “How can we move to renewable energy?.” Or in this case, her actions may have even prompted, “Why should my school go solar?”. Maybe you’re asking the same. The answers have always been there. This article will give you a closer look.
There are obvious parts of your school which you notice every day. The popular kids, after-school events, the one day when they serve lunch you like to eat. Not many people take note of many other things. Such as how the lights need to stay on everywhere, all the time. Or all the other equipment that runs all day to provide students with a conducive learning environment.
Schools use so much energy that their biggest expense is electricity1, right after salaries, By 2006, $6 billion of taxpayers’ money in the US was going to schools’ electricity bills. Between 2016-2017 in the UK, state-funded schools consumed £584 million in electricity costs. In Queensland Australia, the cost of powering schools rose by $10 million within 2 years (2016-18).
These figures may not mean much to you as a student. But when put into perspective, the reality weighs heavy.
Energy companies in the US derive up to 80% of their products from fossil fuels. This includes petroleum, diesel, oil, and gas. This could easily mean that at least 80% of the electricity US schools consume comes from fossil fuels. But fossil fuels are one of the biggest contributors to climate change. This is because they interact with the natural greenhouse effect between the sun and the earth.
The greenhouse effect is a natural process through which the sun keeps the earth warm. The sun rays hit the earth, and the earth absorbs heat, then bounces some of the energy back to space. There are some gasses (such as water vapor, co2, nitrous oxide, CFCs, and methane) that cover our atmosphere and help the earth to hold on to just the right amount of heat.
The problem is, we’re burning fossil fuel which releases these same gases. They release greenhouse gases during production (oil refinement, electricity generation) and during consumption (driving a car, powering a generator). These extra gases in our atmosphere are trapping more heat than necessary, causing global warming. As we consume more fossil-fueled electricity, the earth’s temperature will continue to rise.
All over the world, on every continent, teachers continue to protest their low salaries. This is especially the case when you consider their responsibility to educate the next generation. You don’t have to read the news to know this though. At some point, it will have become obvious to you that your teachers probably aren’t paid as well as other skilled professions.
One of the reasons for low salaries is that schools can only receive so much funding. And a majority of those funds go to keeping the school doors open. As shared earlier, in the US, electricity is the second biggest expense of schools. This affects how each school will prioritize its spending, and these priorities inevitably have a ripple effect on teacher's rewards.
These high electricity costs could also cut into funds needed for school amenities. This could mean less quality of learning, as students may not have access to all the resources they need.
School students are speaking and marching publicly about environmental issues. At a TEDx talk, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, made her case. She said that the first time she heard of climate change was when she was 8 years old. What stayed with her was that the world was doing so little about it.
Upon seeing the aftermath of forest fires that ravaged parts of Swedish lands up to the Arctic, Greta started her protests. She would skip school on Fridays to protest outside the Swedish parliament. She went with placards and often handed out leaflets to passers-by.
In less than a year, Greta inspired similar protests from students around the world. Just a few months later, in November 2018, Australian students launched their protest. 15,000 students left their classrooms to protest, despite being warned against it by their Prime Minister. The first large-scale strike was in March of 2019. Over 1.4 million students in 2,000 cities left their classrooms to protest against climate change. They directed their words at their governments. The request? Take action.
In response, the UN Secretary-General commended these students and reached out to World Leaders. He has called for a summit in September 2019 “where concrete realistic plans” will be discussed regarding climate change.
The good news is, there are other ways for students to start making changes within their society. Students can, for example, start with how their schools are powered. A potential alternative and clean energy source for schools worldwide is solar energy. Solar energy is produced through the interaction of sun rays and solar panels. Solar energy, a type of renewable energy, is a good alternative energy source for schools, colleges, and universities. This is because it is both green and renewable.
What makes solar energy green? Green, in this case, means that there are no gasses released during its use. The production of solar panels is also mostly green. Whereas there are some environmental costs in production and shipping, they are far greener than fossil fuel energy alternatives. Especially once installed. And once installed the operating costs are small, presenting cost savings.
By renewable, we mean that solar energy can be produced over and over again without depleting the source. As long as we have solar panels and the sun keeps shining, we can always make solar power. As such renewable energy can play a vital role in reducing the effects of climate change.
With a solar energy generating system in place, your school can unplug from public grids (or at least partially, depending on the sun and the generating capacity of the system). This removes a significant supply need. Energy companies will respond by reducing the amount of fossil-fueled electricity which they produce. Your school can, therefore, produce its energy with zero gas emissions. As explained above, solar energy production does not generate gas emissions, unlike fossil fuel products. With solar, your school can cut down on air pollution and reduce its carbon footprint.
Whenever a school’s district attempts to cut down on their budget, they tend to go after things that will impact the quality of learning. A recent example was UK schools losing 15,000 staff members due to budget cuts. It is expected that this will almost certainly have an impact on the quality of education in those schools.
We can cut down energy costs without any negative impact on the performance of schools. Instead, students will be learning even more about solar energy use. And saved funds can be redeployed towards better education. These are practices they can take home, teach others, and create a ripple effect across their communities. Investing in solar saves money and in time reduces energy bills.
Your school can completely redirect its energy requirements to solar. Today, given developments and improvements in the solar industry, this is actually possible. In fact, there are numerous examples of schools already doing this. For example, in 2016, high schools in Indiana districts decided to go completely solar. They realized that they could save between $4-5 million over the next 20 years by unplugging from public grids.
Last year, Sheridan Schools was the first (of these schools) to complete their solar project. They are currently operating off their own energy generation. Sheridan has succeeded in freezing costs for the next 25 years while reducing its carbon footprint.
At Camberwell Grammar School in Australia, the student council convinced their board to go solar2. Today, Camberwell does not just generate its own electricity. While the school is on summer vacation, they redirect their electricity to the main grid, providing additional energy for their community. And actually earning from their solar installation.
We can find another interesting story in California. In 2016, Russel Tran (a sophomore) led a coalition of students from four schools to ask for a solar energy system. All four schools made up the Capistrano Unified School District. They also launched a petition on change.org titled “Dear Capistrano Unified School District Let’s Go Solar!”.
Their schools listened. This year, San Clemente will be the second school in the district to receive the installation of their solar panels. San Juan Hills, Ressel’s school, already benefited from theirs in 2018.
Have you been inspired by these stories? You can start taking action today. You, along with other students, can convince your school to go solar.
But before anything else, you need an action plan. A change in electricity supply is a big decision for your school board. If you’re going to convince them, you need to have your answers ready. Because they will have questions. Here are a few pointers to follow.
Understand how solar energy works. Ask the administration for the figure on how much energy your school currently consumes. Then compare those numbers to how much energy your school could realistically produce. With this information, you’ll have answers on how your plan for the school can work.
There are many advantages of moving to renewable energy. Make a list that applies to your school going solar.
Your school’s board may also be passionate about the environment. But they must also consider the financial aspect of every penny. This is why you should expand on the financial benefits of going solar. The installation costs may be heavy upfront. But your school could potentially freeze energy costs over the next few decades.
We’ve given you some examples, but there are so many other schools benefiting from solar energy. Gather as many case studies as possible to include in your presentation. Ideally, search for schools local to you and use them as references cases. Part of your argument can be simply stated: If other people can do it why can’t we?
Once you have your information gathered, ask to speak to the school board. Get an appointment if possible, or ask for a slot in their next meeting. Inform your students’ council about your plans to gain their support and access. Rally as much of the student population as possible behind going solar at your school. At the end of the day, the more voices and support you have, the more likely you will be to be heard.
Involve as many groups in your community as possible. Start from the PTA - encourage your parents to speak up about going solar at their meetings. For community members who are part of churches, mosques, and other communities, ask them to rally further support. Their voices will remind the school that the students are not alone in their call for going solar.
It’s not enough to talk about the environment passionately. Your interests should also be reflected in supporting actions. Encourage your schoolmates to waste less. Share renewable energy tips. Treat the school environment consciously and promote awareness. Students can insert environment-related topics into as many school projects as possible. When decision-makers at your school realize that this passion is all-around, they will likely become better motivated to take action. Ultimately supporting your call to move to solar.
There has never been a better time for students to make an impact in their schools and communities. Not only are you better informed, but you also have worldwide support from people with the same environmental interests. Take advantage of these tools and wield them for a better future.
|ConservationWise from Xcel Energy: Managing energy costs in schools. A guide to energy conservation and savings for K-12 schools.|
|Gippsland Solar Case Study -Camberwell Grammar School.|
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.