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Which States Have the Most Solar-Powered Schools?

According to data from the nonprofit Generation 180, more than half the nation's K-12 solar capacity is in California and New Jersey, which have 2,819 and 662 schools with solar panels, respectively.

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(TNS) — New Jersey has some of the most solar powered schools in the U.S., according to data from Generation 180, a nonprofit organization that compiles data on clean energy

At least 662 New Jersey schools have installed solar panels as of 2022, the data showed. Only California, with 2,819 schools with solar had more.

“California and New Jersey together account for more than HALF of the solar capacity installed on nationwide K-12 schools,” Tish Tablan, program director at Generation 180 told NJ Advance Media in an email.

From 2018 to 2022, solar installations in New Jersey K-12 schools has grown by nearly 50 percent, Tablan said.

Of the schools who’ve chosen to add solar, 59 percent have a higher numbers of children from low-income families, Tablan said.


Newark Public School district started installing solar panels at some of its schools in 2021. At that time, the federal Infrastructure Recovery Act solar incentives were not yet available, according Rodney Williams, director of sustainability for the district.

The district’s board of education “chose to install solar because it was a good return on the investment,” Williams said said in an emailed statement. “Depending on the size of the solar array, it can reduce the electrical bill for an individual school in half.”

Utility bills can be the second most expensive budget item for a school, Tablan told NJ Advance Media in a Zoom interview.

But for some schools, the initial cost tends to discourage the investment, said Eric Larson, senior research engineer at Princeton Universities Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, said.

“It’s not always the sunniest states that have the most solar,” Tablan said. “Thats where I think New Jersey may surprise people, its the second best state in solar adoption by schools because it beats Florida and all the states in the south probably combined because it has the policies in place that make it affordable and economical and accessible.”

In New Jersey, 83 percent of schools with solar panels financed them through a third party provider, data from Generation 180 showed. States with options to go through a power purchase agreement, meaning a third party company installs, owns and maintains the panels, tend to have higher rates of solar powered schools.

“Having these financing arrangements available allows them to be able to access the benefits of this kind of clean energy technology without having to find hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars in their budget to pay for it,” Tablan said. “In New Jersey, that is an option ... in a state like North Dakota and even South Dakota, the only state in the country with zero schools that have any solar, those options are not available.”

Newark’s district worked with Johnson Controls, a company that works to provide green technology solutions, to install solar panel on miles of its schools flat rooftops.

“At the time of getting solar, there were no incentives for public entities to own solar,” Williams said. “School districts were not able to take advantage of the tax credits so going through a purchase power agreement, a school district can benefit from all the rebates and incentives through its partnership with a for profit investor, like JCI.”

The Infrastructure Recovery Act now gives a 30 percent tax credit for solar panels.

“That means that 30 percent of the upfront cost you can deduct that from taxes that you owe the government, and so that effectively means that you spent 30 percent less for the same solar panels” Larson said.

And, in recent years, the cost of producing solar panels has gone down significantly.

“The more we get, the more they get installed, the better we get at manufacturing so it’s kind of a virtuous cycle,” Larson said. “Costs are coming down to the point where you can generate solar electricity almost as inexpensively as you can from natural gas.”


Most of New Jersey’s energy comes from natural gas and nuclear plants, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

Natural gasses release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, from fossil fuels that are mined from the earth into the environment, and make the earth hotter, Larson said.

Solar energy uses solar panels to absorb energy from sun rays produces no carbon dioxide emissions. When more schools add solar, they decrease the load of electricity that needs to be produced by natural gas and nuclear energy plants.

And sometimes, solar panels produce more energy than they need which then goes back into the grid, Larson said.

The more buildings that add solar, the more carbon neutral energy is used to power the grid, Larson said.

“You’re greening the grid in a sense,” Larson said. “You’re reducing the amount of fossil electricity that’s generated and that’s a benefit for the environment.”

Schools, with miles of flat rooftops, are an especially appealing place to put solar panels, Larson said.

“Schools are attractive places to put solar in part because many of them have big flat roofs and so you can put the solar panels on the roofs without having to use land that might be better used for something else,” Larson said.

As of the start of 2022, N.J. schools had a solar capacity of 194,388 kilowatts, according to Generation 180.


In the fall, New Jersey K-12 students started learning about climate change and Newark has used its solar install projects to help illustrate the options.

“The buildings solar system aligns with and enhance the curriculum,” Williams said.

“Schools can be these real life learning labs for students where they are seeing in real time how their school is addressing climate change,” Tablan said.

©2023 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.