Restoring School Programs Through Solar Savings
For decades, there's been a lot of buzz going around regarding the lack of funding in schools across the U.S. All too often, especially in today's volatile economic environment, education budgets are viewed as more of a burden to the overall government budget rather than an important investment in tomorrow's leaders. As a result, programs in early childhood education continue to be cut more and more due to a lack of funding.
We've all seen the commercials for programs like VH1's Save the Music Foundation, featuring stars like Alicia Keys, Beyonce and LeAnn Rimes preaching about the importance of instrumental music education in public schools. Many artists have gone on to say that their success today would be absent without those creative outlets and educational opportunities available to them at a young age. In addition to its intrinsic value, research consistently demonstrates that students who study an instrument enhance their critical thinking skills and their ability to work together as a team; they're less likely to drop out; and they perform significantly better in other academics.
Those programs are making some incredible headway to restore music/arts education in schools across the country from the donations of many Americans. Some school districts, however, are getting more creative. California's Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District, for example, has restored music instruction with savings from solar power installations at three of its five district schools.
The newly installed systems, provided by SolarCity, will allow the district to pay less for clean solar power than it would for fossil fuel utility power, saving the District $900,000 in the systems' first five years of operation, and several million over the life of the system.
“Solar energy projects for public schools are essentially revenue enhancements for school districts which directly benefit the students and taxpayers,” said Russell Freitas, Superintendent of Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District. “During these past ten years, school districts have experienced the most difficult financial times and because of the savings this solar project has created, we are able to bring music instruction back to the District.”
Since 2009, the District had been forced to eliminate music instruction for grades six through twelve due to a lack of funding, but has now brought back a variety of musical offerings for fourth through twelfth graders in the 2012-2013 school year.
After applying for and receiving authorization to issue a Qualified School Construction Bond, which covered the cost of construction of the system, the District worked with an independent energy advisor, TerraVerde Renewable Partners, to determine a funding source and select the best solar provider. The annual expected savings are in excess of the annual debt service payments, resulting in a positive cash flow starting from year one. Freitas explains that being prepared to act quickly when low cost financing options come up is key to the success of these types of projects.
What's more is that the solar systems also provide students with firsthand demonstrations, explaining how solar energy works and all of its benefits. Through SolarCity’s web-based monitoring, PowerGuide®, they’ll be able to track in real-time how much power their solar system is generating and how much electricity their school is using. This data is displayed graphically, thus allowing students to easily see the relationship between production and consumption.
“Besides the economic benefits, the presence of solar serves as both an inspiration and teaching tool to faculty and students in learning about math and science,” says Freitas. “For example, data systems associated with the solar project generate real world information on electricity usage, weather, and costs savings that can be used to teach about the interaction of different math and engineering concepts.”
No more students whining in math class about how they'll “never use this in the real world.” This new approach may even inspire a number of students to continue education in fields critical to the future of their generation: energy efficiency.
Of course, no school district is the same. Every District has its own unique challenges in figuring out how to reduce operating costs so that as many resources as possible are available for the classroom, explains Freitas.
“In some Districts the need is music/art, in others the highest need is to fund deferred maintenance so that children are able to learn in a healthy and safe environment,” he says. “The key point is that schools have the opportunity to generate savings through effective management of energy, including implementation of solar.”
Due to the lack of state funding, many school districts have had to ask their local voters for operating referendums just to provide their students with a basic education. Factoring in inflation, state aid to school districts has dropped by about 13 percent over the last decade.
The Firebaugh-Las Deltas Unified School District stands as an example of how one school system took the debilitating challenge into their own hands. For them, solar power is the light at the end of a very desolate tunnel. SolarCity has undertaken over 200 other solar projects for schools, community colleges and universities across the country—a trend we can only expect to gain momentum over upcoming years as solar technology and financing options continue to improve.
Carbon dioxide removal revenues worth £2bn a year by 2030
Carbon dioxide removal revenues could reach £2bn a year by 2030 in the UK with costs per megatonne totalling up to £400 million, according to the National Infrastructure Commission.
Engineered greenhouse gas removals will become "a major new infrastructure sector" in the coming decades - although costs are uncertain given removal technologies are in their infancy - and revenues could match that of the UK’s water sector by 2050. The Commission’s analysis suggests engineered removals technologies need to have capacity to remove five to ten megatonnes of carbon dioxide no later than 2030, and between 40 and 100 megatonnes by 2050.
The Commission states technologies fit into two categories: extracting carbon dioxide directly out of the air; and bioenergy with carbon capture technology – processing biomass to recapture carbon dioxide absorbed as the fuel grew. In both cases, the captured CO2 is then stored permanently out of the atmosphere, typically under the seabed.
The report sets out how the engineered removal and storage of carbon dioxide offers the most realistic way to mitigate the final slice of emissions expected to remain by the 2040s from sources that don’t currently have a decarbonisation solution, like aviation and agriculture.
It stresses that the potential of these technologies is “not an excuse to delay necessary action elsewhere” and cannot replace efforts to reduce emissions from sectors like road transport or power, where removals would be a more expensive alternative.
The critical role these technologies will play in meeting climate targets means government must rapidly kick start the sector so that it becomes viable by the 2030s, according to the report, which was commissioned by government in November 2020.
Early movement by the UK to develop the expertise and capacity in greenhouse gas removal technologies could create a comparative advantage, with the prospect of other countries needing to procure the knowledge and skills the UK develops.
The Commission recommends that government should support the development of this new sector in the short term with policies that drive delivery of these technologies and create demand through obligations on polluting industries, which will over time enable a competitive market to develop. Robust independent regulation must also be put in place from the start to help build public and investor confidence.
While the burden of these costs could be shared by different parts of industries required to pay for removals or in part shared with government, the report acknowledges that, over the longer term, the aim should be to have polluting sectors pay for removals they need to reach carbon targets.
Polluting industries are likely to pass a proportion of the costs onto consumers. While those with bigger household expenditures will pay more than those on lower incomes, the report underlines that government will need to identify ways of protecting vulnerable consumers and to decide where in relevant industry supply chains the costs should fall.
Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt, said taking steps to clean our air is something we’re going to have to get used to, just as we already manage our wastewater and household refuse.
"While engineered removals will not be everyone’s favourite device in the toolkit, they are there for the hardest jobs. And in the overall project of mitigating our impact on the planet for the sake of generations to come, we need every tool we can find," he said.
“But to get close to having the sector operating where and when we need it to, the government needs to get ahead of the game now. The adaptive approach to market building we recommend will create the best environment for emerging technologies to develop quickly and show their worth, avoiding the need for government to pick winners. We know from the dramatic fall in the cost of renewables that this approach works and we must apply the lessons learned to this novel, but necessary, technology.”
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and International Energy Agency estimate a global capacity for engineered removals of 2,000 to 16,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide each year by 2050 will be needed in order to meet global reduction targets.
Yesterday Summit Carbon Solutions received "a strategic investment" from John Deere to advance a major CCUS project (click here). The project will accelerate decarbonisation efforts across the agriculture industry by enabling the production of low carbon ethanol, resulting in the production of more sustainable food, feed, and fuel. Summit Carbon Solutions has partnered with 31 biorefineries across the Midwest United States to capture and permanently sequester their CO2 emissions.
Cory Reed, President, Agriculture & Turf Division of John Deere, said: "Carbon neutral ethanol would have a positive impact on the environment and bolster the long-term sustainability of the agriculture industry. The work Summit Carbon Solutions is doing will be critical in delivering on these goals."
McKinsey highlights a number of CCUS methods which can drive CO2 to net zero:
- Today’s leader: Enhanced oil recovery Among CO2 uses by industry, enhanced oil recovery leads the field. It accounts for around 90 percent of all CO2 usage today
- Cementing in CO2 for the ages New processes could lock up CO2 permanently in concrete, “storing” CO2 in buildings, sidewalks, or anywhere else concrete is used
- Carbon neutral fuel for jets Technically, CO2 could be used to create virtually any type of fuel. Through a chemical reaction, CO2 captured from industry can be combined with hydrogen to create synthetic gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel
- Capturing CO2 from ambient air - anywhere Direct air capture (DAC) could push CO2 emissions into negative territory in a big way
- The biomass-energy cycle: CO2 neutral or even negative Bioenergy with carbon capture and storage relies on nature to remove CO2 from the atmosphere for use elsewhere