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San Ramon Valley Unified School District installs 10k photovoltaic panels at five schools

In a move that is proving to be controversial with some, some California school districts are looking to a high-tech way to save money, even if the payback won't be achieved until well over a decade later. CNN is reporting that some California school districts are looking to low-interest federal loans to install solar panels on schools.

CNN singled out the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, which has installed roughly 10,000 photovoltaic panels at five of its 35 total schools at a cost of $23 million. Under the most optimistic projections, the photovoltaic panels would offset energy usage at the schools by 67 to 75 percent. 

According to spokesman Terry Koehne, the San Ramon Valley Unified School District will pay back the loans courtesy of the energy savings from using the solar installations. However, this won't be a quick payback for the school system -- it will take roughly 16 years to break even on the photovoltaic panels.

Koehne, however, points to the upside of embarking on this expensive venture; "It's pure profit after that. And following that, we're going to start realizing savings of $2 (million), $3 (million), $4 million a year."

Like many schools across the nation, California schools are facing a serious budget crunch. Less money means fewer teachers, fewer teaching assistants, and more students per classroom. By making this move now, the school district is hoping that the future payoff will allow it use its resources more wisely. 

Lower production costs, thanks to stiff competition from Chinese companies, is causing a surge in the adoption of solar panels. One of the causalities of the race to the bottom in panel costs was Silicon Valley-based Solyndra. The company received a rushed $535 million loan courtesy of the Obama industry during 2009 in order to bolster its operations.

However, the company two years later filed for bankruptcy and axed over 1,000 employees. Interestingly, an email that was sent out before final approval of the loan was granted rightly projected that the company would run out of money by September 2011. 

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americans are joke
By tech02148 on 9/18/2011 3:28:59 PM , Rating: -1
a federal loan from Obama's green initiative for a budge- broken state with an overpopulated illegal immigrant problem, clearly UsA form of management and good governance is working, please go and tell the world how great a democractic institution that spends other people's money make you so great.

RE: americans are joke
By Ally Up on 9/18/11, Rating: -1
RE: americans are joke
By dsx724 on 9/18/2011 4:14:31 PM , Rating: 1
A dollar saved from being wasted is a dollar going into the US economy, actual jobs and productivity. Pumping money into wasting economic resources (war, oil, energy) is filling a bottomless pit that got us here in the first place. I commend whichever administrator that made this decision.

RE: americans are joke
By mindless1 on 9/18/2011 4:28:04 PM , Rating: 2
FALSE! Economic resources like coal is money put into US workers pockets while the article mentions Chinese solar panels!

It's NOT actual jobs and productivity it is the opposite, a waste of money that NEEDED to either be put to good use, or kept in the pockets of those workers paying taxes so they can pay their mortgage, eat, afford gas to drive to work, etc.

You can't see the truth behind the fluff. A simple concept like "use less fossil fuel" has to have a sane solution not just green brainwashed nonsense waste. The panels will degrade, will need maintenance and repair, there's the removal and disposal fee, and it's costing us all tax money to waste even more money.

If they want to save on the power bill, USE LESS POWER. It's such a magical solution that I dared to even write it down because nobody will believe this simple truth. The less power they use, the more and more unfeasible the solar panels would be even if they would have ever broken even.

What did they need to do instead? Fire the school officials that decided to do this. Their positions are better left empty than letting things go from bad to worse.

In the end a school system must work within their budget, they should never ever take out loans to do anything. It's a sign they can't make ends meet and taking out a loan in that case is just digging a deeper hole. You CUT BACK on spending when times are tight, NOT gambling on a non-essential upgrade WITH OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY.

In the end it is a school system. Do these panels effect a positive result on the education? No. They are contrary to the purpose. If we want government subsidizing adoption of solar panels then at the very least it should be a broad scale effort that benefits everyone, a power company should plug them into the grid, and buy them from US companies.

THAT would create US jobs and productivity, even though solar panels are still too expensive compared to nuclear, etc. We say people oppose nuclear, but it is not true, people are greedy enough that if the cost of power goes up, more and more will concede nuclear is the answer.

RE: americans are joke
By drycrust3 on 9/18/2011 5:53:07 PM , Rating: 2
Considering the panels will lose around 3-5% efficiency in the first year and then about 1% every year after that to a useful life of around 25 years

One of the less than obvious problems with this idea is that these are being installed in schools, where children play. Not being American, I don't know if they allow children to play hockey, baseball or softball, or kick footballs etc, near buildings, but even if they don't, children being children, these panels need to be able to withstand having things like a hockey ball, baseball, or football fall from the sky and land on them without them cracking or breaking. If they can't withstand this, then I think the power savings would be offset by the higher maintenance costs.
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the issue of a battery. This requires space, someone to look after it, and will probably need replacing at least once in that 25 year lifespan.
This, in turn, raises another issue, which is how do they plan to use these solar cells in conjunction with the local mains AC? For example, if they use AC to charge the batteries when their voltage drops below a threshold, then there is a loss in power when converting from AC to DC, and then again when converting from DC back to AC. This duel loss of power results in the electricity costing more to the end user when the solar panels aren't up to the job. The end result may be that in some months of the year the monthly power bills are higher than if they didn't install the solar panels.
Or maybe they plan to use the solar panels to heat the hot water, where things like fluctuating voltages and momentary power cuts are more acceptable than for things like computers. However, there are other ways you could heat the hot water without spending $23M, for example getting people from the local prison to pedal on generators.

RE: americans are joke
By FITCamaro on 9/18/2011 6:30:59 PM , Rating: 1
these panels need to be able to withstand having things like a hockey ball

You're not too familiar with hockey are you...

RE: americans are joke
By kidboodah on 9/18/2011 6:54:05 PM , Rating: 2

RE: americans are joke
By RyuDeshi on 9/18/2011 8:42:38 PM , Rating: 2
When I was in grade school we used hockey balls, not pucks.

RE: americans are joke
By drycrust3 on 9/18/2011 8:50:29 PM , Rating: 2
Article regarding a baseball lost on a school roof.
and soon we were running around on the Ottiwell roof throwing a ton of balls down into the school’s grassy side lawn

Thus it seems the idea of a ball being hit or kicked onto a school roof isn't rare.

RE: americans are joke
By damania1 on 9/18/2011 9:04:49 PM , Rating: 2
I guess we shouldn't have windows either.

RE: americans are joke
By lagomorpha on 9/18/2011 10:24:21 PM , Rating: 3
Not all kinds of hockey are played on ice.

RE: americans are joke
By Paj on 9/19/2011 8:56:01 AM , Rating: 3
Most countries dont play ice hockey, they play field hockey.

RE: americans are joke
By Real_Time on 9/18/2011 10:22:30 PM , Rating: 1
Considering the panels will lose around 3-5% efficiency in the first year and then about 1% every year after that to a useful life of around 25 years, the 16 year calculation is a bit of an overly-optimistic assumption

You make a couple of invalid assumptions here:

The rate of sensitivity decay of a photovoltaic panel depends on many factors, not the least of which is the type of material the panel is made of. Making specific claims about this degradation, without knowing precisely which panels were used, invalidates your claims.

Your argument also implies that the 16-year break-even result neglects the inherent degradation of the panels. The company manufacturing the panels being installed for the school districts is SunPower Corporation. These people provide panels for home, government, and manufacturing. It would follow that this company is well aware of the inherent degradation and provided statistics to the school district to help them determine the break even. If you are so dubious of their claim, why not contact the School Board and ask how they arrived at their claim of 16 years?

Your brand of pessimism, while commonplace with internet comments, is no less ignorant sounding. These types of comments do nothing but serve up devisiveness in a world more and more satisfied with its own self-rightousness.

RE: americans are joke
By jtemplin on 9/18/2011 11:58:36 PM , Rating: 1
Amen brother

RE: americans are joke
By fishman on 9/19/2011 7:29:36 AM , Rating: 3
So, you always believe what a salesman tells you?

RE: americans are joke
By Real_Time on 9/19/2011 10:58:38 AM , Rating: 2
Begging your pardon, but we aren't exactly talking about a $500 HP printer at a Best Buy here. The company in question has a track record of propriety and excellence. I am merely pointing out the fact that 3-5% is an invalid assumption.

Do I always believe what a salesman tells me? No. I research facts and make up my own mind given all the information available. In the case of SunPower v. fishman, however, I am going to side with the successful corporation rather than the peanut gallery.

RE: americans are joke
By drycrust3 on 9/19/2011 3:17:26 PM , Rating: 3
The problem here is the experts on this system are the company representatives, e.g. sales people and engineers. They are the ones who know the best environment for this type of product, but also the worst environment.
The best solution would be to get sales people and engineers from other industries to provide input so at least you have some other options presented to you, and they can tell you potential pitfalls that lie ahead.
To me the real killer is the 16 year break even point is way too long for a commercial product; it sort of smacks of an air of optimism and being just marginally cheaper than the current set up. And if, after 16 years, the schools haven't broken even then the supplier just needs to say "But we didn't factor in that blah blah blah would happen" and they are off the hook.
If those schools were to contact their other local energy providers I think they could provide solutions that would give them at least the equivalent savings, and probably better savings. For example, in the next 16 years LED lamps will have developed to the point that they will have replaced incandescent and fluorescent lighting. They could also do things like insulate their hot water cylinders better, which again would easily provide a 3 to 5% saving when implemented, and by using reflective and double glazed windows they could easily reduce their heating and cooling costs. The cost to do these things is a bit higher now, but would probably have the same 16 year break even point.
To me, these panels will probably end up being attached to the UPS system, which runs the computers etc, which isn't a heavy user of electricity; and that the heavy user things like hot water and air conditioning will still be done by the mains. In short, you will have spent a lot of money and achieved little.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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