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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: Bad economic analysis once more
By MonkeyPaw on 9/18/2011 10:57:26 PM , Rating: 3
Here's hoping the panels last 16 years. Failure creeps up on things exposed to the elements. Though I guess CA doesn't get the hail storms or tornadoes like we do in the Midwest.


By Solandri on 9/19/2011 8:34:43 AM , Rating: 3
They typically last 25-30 years. Beyond that, degradation of PV efficiency frequently makes it more cost-effective to scrap and replace with newer panels. e.g. the 10% efficient panels from approx 30 years ago would have degraded to about 7% now. Contrast that with newer panels which are about 16% efficient, and there's a strong financial incentive (absent other power sources) to scrap the old panels even though they are still generating electricity.

For a homeowner who typically sells a house after 10-15 years and predominantly uses electricity during the evening*, solar frequently does not make sense. But for a commercial/government entity which is occupying the same building for decades if not centuries, and requires the most power during peak electricity prices, solar does actually make sense. Given California's budget problems, I'm not sure it makes sense to do it right now. But long-term they should come out ahead on this. Assuming they got the panels at a good price (I've seen kickback schemes where local governments award overpriced contracts to a local renewable energy company).

*(It will be interesting to see how electric cars being recharged during the evening/overnight will impact hourly electric rates.)


RE: Bad economic analysis once more
By tng on 9/19/2011 10:26:10 AM , Rating: 2
San Ramon is just East of the SF Bay area. As such it does not suffer from really cold temps in the Winter, but it does get over 100F frequently during the Summer.

The Summer season there will last typically from early April to late October and there is very little rain or even cloud cover in the Summer. Given those conditions this may be a wise use of money.


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