Alta Energy Delivers Cost Savings to California Public Schools with Solar on Portable Classrooms

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Nov 27, 2019

Alta Energy has completed the installation of solar power systems at 14 campuses across California’s Poway Unified School District (PUSD). Alta Energy installed a total of 632 kilowatts (kW) on 65 of PUSD’s standard 24 by 40 feet relocatable, portable classrooms. Financed through a power purchase agreement (PPA) with no out-of-pocket costs to the district, the project reduces PUSD’s electricity expenses by nearly 15 percent and will save the district $250,000 per year.

The project is unique in its approach of installing solar panels on the roofs of the portable classroom buildings at each campus. Installing solar on these buildings enables the use of standardized designs that are quicker, less expensive and less disruptive to install than more conventional designs such as solar parking canopies. There are an estimated 80,000 such buildings in the California public school system, representing about 30 percent of all K-12 classrooms in the state.

The installations enable PUSD to switch to a more favorable electric rate from its utility, San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E). In California, major utilities offer solar-friendly rates with lower demand charges as a benefit to customers who install solar power systems. For schools, switching to these rates can dramatically cut electricity bills, since demand charges often represent more than half of a school’s electricity bill. Prior to installing solar at these campuses, demand charges constituted 65 percent of PUSD’s electricity bills. After the project, those charges were reduced to only 30 percent of the total bill.

“Placing solar on our relocatable classrooms and switching to SDG&E’s solar-friendly rate is going to yield significant savings for the district,” said Chad Koster, director of facilities at Poway Unified School District. “We are always looking for innovative ways to cut operating costs. This project will enable us to do that and have a positive environmental impact at the same time.”

Energy bills are a significant financial burden for schools in California. California public schools spend about $700 million per year on energy, which is comparable with their budget for books and supplies. By installing relatively small solar power systems that generate only 10 to 20 percent of their total electricity consumption, schools can switch to solar-friendly rates that often provide dramatic energy bill reductions.

“The Poway solar project is based on a different strategy than most solar projects at schools,” said Marc Roper, chief commercial officer of Alta Energy. “Instead of maximizing the amount of solar power generation per campus with custom, one-off system designs, we used a cookie-cutter approach to install solar on existing portable classrooms. This provides PUSD just enough solar to trigger an electric utility rate switch, allowing the district to save significantly, while minimizing risk and impact on the district’s operations. It’s a great model with broad applicability, as these portable classrooms can be found in virtually every school district in the state.”


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