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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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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.

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