Solar Matching Grants Help Students Power Up Schools

"What truly inspires me is the amount of dedication and work from student teams and teachers. For many schools, what initially began as an analysis of the solar potential at their school in response to a contest, resulted in an actual installation of a solar electric system." -Kendal Kuneman, Ecology Center, Michigan Renewable Schools Program

In the spring, student groups from fourteen schools entered the My Solar School Contest and shared their visions for solar-powered school communities. These 6th through 12th graders developed energy literacy as they conducted solar analyses to investigate and develop a solar photovoltaic project for their school community. They cultivated communication skills as they pitched their impressive proposals in short video presentations. And now they’re learning how ideas become realities as they navigate the processes of obtaining funding and administrative approval to build their solar arrays.

We’re excited to be able to give schools a leg up in their fundraising efforts to turn their solar installation ideas into realities.

Thanks to the generous support of the Mott Foundation and the ongoing engagement of our partners—the US Green Building Council Detroit Region, Generation 180, the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, the USGBC West Michigan Region, and EcoWorks—schools who received awards or honorable mentions in the My Solar School Contest and are eligible to apply for project funding through the Solar Matching Grant Program. Matching grants are being offered up to $5,000 on a first come, first served basis, with matches up to 200% available for schools serving lower income students.

The matching grants assist teams that competed in the My Solar School Contest to continue to pursue solar electric installations at their school, both financially and with access to expert support.  “Solar mentors” from the Ecology Center and its partners are providing continued technical assistance and financing guidance to each team working to advance solar at their school.

So far, five eligible schools have applied for matching grants. We’re excited for the steps being taken to advance solar energy by Bullock Creek High School, Gesu School, Glen Lake Community School, West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science, and West Side Academy of Information Technology and Cyber Security. Two Solar Matching Grant awards have been finalized, and many contest entrants have made remarkable strides forward.

Some My Solar School Contest participants are building on longstanding momentum as they advance their solar projects. The grand prize winner, West Bloomfield High School’s E.A.R.T.H. (Environmentally Aware, Ready to Help) Club, recently finished installing a 20 kW solar array that will fully power the school’s science department. This array expands on existing efforts and previous help from the Ecology Center; in 2010 the E.A.R.T.H. club installed a 3.44 kW solar tracker with support from the Ecology Center’s Michigan Renewable Schools Program.

Solar matching grant awardee West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science (WMAES) plans to incorporate their solar system into their STEM curriculum for students of all grades. Their 4.42 kW array, scheduled for installation in 2019, “will allow students to get up close and personal to a ground mount system,” explains Environmental Science Coordinator Holly Orians. “Students will be able to track real time energy usage and energy harnessed through data tracking systems that will be available to them via their cell phones, an in-school energy kiosk and finally use real world data in other classes while they are exploring graphs and charts.”

Other participants have parlayed their more recent contest momentum into new solar investment. Our first matching grant recipient, Gesu School in Detroit, used their learning, contest prize money, and matching grant award to garner support for a substantial installation. “Our students investigated solar and after the My Solar contest, they made a presentation to the Vice Presidents of UAW and Ford who agreed that solar was a project worth funding. We were able to install a 68 panel, 24.82 KW system on our gym roof," says Anita Sevier, Gesu Community Outreach Coordinator. Traverse City Central High School students raised $38,000 after the contest to complete their 20 kW array. West Side Academy of Technology and Cyber Security has installed two of ten anticipated solar-powered streetlights to create safe routes from bus stops to school.

For schools who continue to work toward installations, we anticipate the promise of the matching grant to incentivize next steps and to fuel the success of ongoing fundraising. The small but mighty five-girl Envirothon team of Glen Lake High School in Leelanau County earned a finalist award of $500 in the My Solar School Contest in April, and they received approval from their school board in May to pursue further funds, including the Solar Matching Grant. Glen Lake’s proposed array is a large undertaking for a small group, as they seek $27,000. The 24 panel ground-mounted system will meet about 1% of the school’s total energy requirements. Like WMAES, Glen Lake students note that the educational potential offers some of the system’s greatest benefit. Students can use data from the system as they study energy in science and math classes, practice problem solving as they continue to improve the system, and become energy literate and environmentally aware.

Schools are powerful institutions of influence, not only in the amount of energy they use (Michigan schools spend about $750 million each year on electricity and fuel costs and could reduce that figure by $150 million with affordable clean energy improvements) but also in the role they play as community hubs. Our My Solar School participants have become clean energy educators in their families and communities. We’re excited to extend further support for their work to implement sustainable energy learning and renewable power for their schools through the Solar Matching Grant Program.


Published on October 30, 2018