Solar in Schools is Soaring - Will a Trade Case Slow Things Down?

A recent article in Green Tech Media, a renewable energy news and market analysis website, details the surge in solar adoption by U.S. schools in the last decade as prices have fallen.  A recent trade case brought by Suniva and SolarWorld Americas, known as Section 201, could change all that by introducing tariffs as high as 30% on imported panels. Such a tariff would have significant detrimental impacts on the industry and the rate of adoption by schools:

Since 2008, cumulative PV capacity on K-12 school buildings increased by 86 percent. But because the main driver of adoption is now cost, possible tariffs on imported solar equipment from the Section 201 Trade Case could have a major cooling effect.

For context, Green Tech Media explores the factors behind the growth in both the number of school solar installations and their size, noting that this year "the average school install is twice the size of other non-residential systems." GTM reached out to Tom Williard, principal at Sage Renewables, for insight into how Power Purchase Agreements (PPA) factor into this trend:

Take the arrangement between SunPower and Kern High School District in Bakersfield, California for a 22.7-megawatt project. For the first 20 years, the PPA has a rate of 11.9 cents per kilowatt-hour, which steps down to 7 cents in the last five years of the agreement. The project's large size, low initial investment, and favorable rates compared to utility prices will allow the district of 35,000 students to save $80 million over 25 years.  

“PPA offerings have improved significantly,” said Tom Williard, founder at Sage Renewable Energy Consulting, who worked with the district on the plan. “Lower installed cost and financing innovations have resulted in PPA base prices well below utility energy costs.”

Approximately two-thirds of California districts that invest in solar are financing them through PPAs, said Williard, who was quoted in the report. Nationwide, nearly 90 percent of all school solar systems undertaken in the last three years have used PPAs.

Sage will continue to monitor closely this trade case and its impacts on behalf of its clients, and will provide updates on this website when available.