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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: Irrational rationalization
By Solandri on 9/19/2011 8:17:16 AM , Rating: 4
Solar (rooftop)? That tells me the statistics are flawed as there are other types of solar installations.

Rooftop installation is the most common because roofs are typically "wasted" space. A ground-based installation makes sense in a vast desert, but that eliminates the "local power generation" argument for solar. For an urban or even suburban setting the roof is the best, and quite frequently the only place to put solar panels without incurring additional costs due to having to purchase more real estate. And in low-latitude locations where solar does best, a rooftop installation helps reduce air conditioning requirements by shading the actual roof of the building.
I bet if the people of Fukushima had to do it over again they would not go the nuclear route.

Well yeah. And I bet if someone who died installing a rooftop solar panel had it to do over again, they would not go the solar route.

You can't analyze which power technology is better based on anecdotal incidents. You have to look at the long-term average over time. When you do that, nuclear is the safest, almost the cheapest (I believe hydro is cheaper), requires less space, and requires less construction materials than any other power technology, including renewables.

Its only significant problem is the waste, which IMHO is overblown. Powering a typical American home for 30 years with coal would generate ~160 tons of coal ash, ~400 tons of CO2, and several tons of other pollutants. In contrast, powering it with nuclear would only generate about 2 tablespoons of spent fuel (approx 1/10th that if you reprocess). Over 500 tons of pollutants vs. 2 tablespoons. Even if you don't believe that nuclear is the best solution, you have to be to crazy to oppose it if it means continuing to operate our coal plants.

(Incidentally, to power the same home for 30 years generates about 750 kg of steel, concrete, and FRP waste for wind; about 700 kg of steel and PV waste for solar; and about 250 kg of steel and concrete waste for nuclear. So aside from the spent fuel, nuclear is cleaner than renewables too.)

"If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion." -- Scientology founder L. Ron. Hubbard

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