National Solar Tour Spotlight: Three schools participating in the Tour

September 29, 2020

The 25th National Solar Tour is underway this week (Sept. 28 – Oct. 4), celebrating the vital role that individuals and organizations with solar play in creating a brighter future for everyone. For the rest of this week, hundreds of people across the nation will show off their solar homes, schools, businesses, municipal buildings, and more on the Tour’s interactive map. There’s also a week’s worth of virtual events covering everything from solar homeownership to energy and equity. 

We’re particularly excited about the growing role K-12 schools are playing in advancing solar energy. Solar on schools has now become a win-win solution for students, schools, and communities that’s being rapidly deployed in communities all over the country: over the last five years, U.S. K-12 schools more than doubled their total amount of installed solar.

To celebrate this week’s National Solar Tour, we’re spotlighting three schools that are hosting “virtual open houses” as part of the tour. Check out their videos and then head to the Tour’s website to get in on the rest of this week’s virtual experience, including three virtual sessions on Thursday (10/1) covering solar for schools.

Forest Edge Elementary (WI)

This newly built elementary school in Fitchburg, WI will be the state’s first net-zero school, offsetting 100% of onsite energy needs. Welcome to the future of school buildings…

Santa Fe Public Schools (NM)

After looking at the district’s utility bills, SFPS realized they could save $350,000 a year by going solar. They’ve also integrated solar into the classroom, observing real-time data and learning about one of the key technologies—and industries—of the future.

Hopewell-Loudon Schools (OH)

Another success story featuring—you guessed it—solar saving a district a bunch of money. This virtual tour gives an interesting look into the interactive solar monitoring that’s providing hands-on STEM learning and takes you up on the roof to look at the rooftop system.

If that doesn’t get you excited for a future (and an education system) powered by clean, renewable energy, we’re not sure what will. Head over to the National Solar Tour’s website and check out the hundreds of virtual open houses and the full schedule of virtual events. 


Thinking of getting an EV? Your neighbor just might convince you.

September 23, 2020

Have a neighbor who owns an electric vehicle? Ask them to tell you about it—or better yet, to let you take it for a spin. Pretty soon, you may be headed to the dealer as well. Studies show that word of mouth is one of the best ways to speed the EV revolution, and that current owners are among the top advocates for the low-maintenance, emission-free vehicles.

Peer influence—a.k.a. “the neighborhood effect”—is shown to have a bigger impact on the uptake of clean energy tech than things like glitzy advertising, expert knowledge, or even social media reviews. A recent survey by found that personal recommendations from friends, family, or coworkers had the most influence on a person’s vehicle purchase, with 52 percent of respondents saying it had governed their buying choice. “When someone in your immediate circle has a good or bad experience with anything, it makes you feel better about making the same decision,” an Autolist analyst explained. “Because cars are such a huge purchase in our lives, word of mouth means that much more here.”

Studies show that word-of-mouth is one of the best ways to speed the EV revolution.

Steve Hanley, a self-proclaimed “ambassador for the electric vehicle lifestyle,” noted that, as the first EV buyer in his area, he was able to dispel common misconceptions that his neighbors had about the Nissan LEAF, including its 226-mile battery range. “When I explain it is adequate for 90 percent of my driving needs and can go several days without recharging, they begin to see how an electric car could fit their needs as well,” he said. Just driving around town helps to break down the barriers to greater EV demand, Hanley explained, as “fear of the unknown subsides and people become more receptive of the newfangled oddity in their midst.”

Automaker Tesla has been a perfect test case for the power of peer effects on car buyers. The company is notorious for avoiding traditional marketing and advertising, but it still outsells all other EV brands, partly because Tesla owners love to convert people they know into EV drivers. In a study involving 5,000 purchasers of Tesla’s all-electric Model 3 sedan, 99 percent of the participants were satisfied with the car and were willing to recommend it to friends and family. In Hawaii, researchers found that for every 26 Tesla EVs sold in a zip code, the peer influence of just seeing the vehicles in the vicinity generated at least one additional Tesla sale. “What we’re seeing is that word of mouth is more than enough to drive our demand in excess of production,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Largely because people have enjoyed their interactions with EV owners, more and more carmakers are capitalizing on word-of-mouth sales. At the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show, the CEO of Mercedes-Benz USA said: “It’s a question of experience. I think it’s getting cars on the road and having people speak of their experience positively.” Similarly, GM’s president acknowledges that, “Word-of-mouth will be critical” to increasing the demand for EVs. (It also doesn’t hurt that the nation’s EV charging network is expanding rapidly and that battery costs are plummeting, making the vehicles more convenient and affordable by the day.)

Sure, there’s still the challenge of bridging the gap between a person’s expressed interest in buying an EV and their actual following through with the purchase. But as more models come on the market and as more people “know someone (or know someone who knows someone)” who has an EV, this will quickly change. Watching more of our neighbors zipping to work or to the grocery store in their clean energy vehicles—and talking to them about their experiences—will make more of us want to go electric (you could be next!). And if you’re already a proud EV owner, you’re more valuable than you think: just keep singing the praises of your silent ride, and you may soon see all your neighbors plugging in.

Want to learn more about going electric? Join Generation180 for Electrify Your Ride Week (Sept 27–Oct 3), a full week’s worth of virtual events all about electric vehicles, including an e-bike giveaway, myth-busting trivia, and discussions ranging from how to drive on sunshine to workplace charging and effective government policies.

Originally published in the 9/23/20 edition of our Flip the Script newsletter


It’s time for more schools to go solar

September 16, 2020

Ready for a bright spot in an otherwise dreary news cycle? Across the U.S., more than 7,300 K-12 schools now rely on clean solar energy to power their operations. That’s up 81 percent from just five years ago, and represents 5.5 percent of all elementary and secondary schools in the country, according to the latest edition of Generation180’s Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools, released this week. Despite this promising growth, however, so many more schools could benefit both financially and educationally from harnessing the power of the sun.

Importantly, going solar isn’t just for well-endowed communities or school districts. As districts struggle to adapt to a nationwide budget crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, K-12 schools of all types are shoring up their finances with a switch to solar power, which usually involves minimal to no upfront capital costs. According to the report, 79 percent of the solar installed on schools was financed by a third party—such as a solar developer—who funds, builds, owns, and maintains the system. This allows schools and districts, regardless of their budget size, to purchase solar energy and receive immediate energy cost savings. Power purchase agreements, or PPAs, are a popular third-party arrangement currently available in 28 states and the District of Columbia.

Going solar is a long-term win-win, not a money sink. Energy costs are the second largest expense for U.S. schools after personnel, and school districts can save significantly on these costs over time. For example, Tucson Unified School District in Arizona expects to save $43 million over 20 years, and in Arkansas, the Batesville School District used energy savings to become the highest-paying school district in the county, with teachers receiving up to $9,000 per year in raises.

Schools are also capitalizing on solar projects to reap educational benefits, including providing students with hands-on STEM learning opportunities (as in Michigan), job training, and internships for solar careers. In addition, schools with solar and battery storage can serve as emergency shelters and provide backup power during grid outages, which not only prevents classroom disruptions but also serves as a vital resource for communities. “At a time when the global pandemic and climate change bring emergency preparedness into sharp focus, schools with solar and storage can become centers of community resilience that provide vital support during natural disasters,” said Andrea Luecke, president and executive director at The Solar Foundation.

California is the nation’s solar school leader—home to a third of all sun-powered schools and to 45% of the installed solar capacity—followed by New Jersey, Arizona, and Massachusetts. But the three fastest growing states for installed solar capacity on schools are Indiana, Virginia (see examples here and here), and Illinois, suggesting that the Midwest is increasingly benefiting from the clean energy revolution. Only one US state, South Dakota, has no solar schools. In some states, solar schools account for a large share of the total, representing nearly a third (29 percent) of all schools in Hawaii, nearly a quarter (23 percent) in the District of Columbia and a fifth (20 percent) in Nevada.

Even though millions of kids aren’t physically entering classrooms this fall, the number of students who attend a solar school has risen to a whopping 5.3 million, nearly double the number in 2014, when the first edition of Brighter Future came out. But with a total of 56.5 million K-12 students nationwide, we still have a ways to go. For most public schools, the decision to go solar is made at the district level, pointing to the importance of involving key local champions, including superintendents, facilities managers, and school boards, as well as parents and students. Already, around 16% of K-12 school districts across the country (2,231 in total) have embraced solar, often inspired by community-led campaigns. (Check out Generation 180’s “How-to Guide” and other resources to get your district moving on solar schools.)

The federal government also needs to step up by including clean energy funding for schools in national  economic recovery and disaster relief plans. “As we think of ways we can rebuild better, helping schools make the switch to solar + storage can uplift our communities, drive our stalled economy, and insulate our schools from the effects of climate change,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of SEIA. “It’s rare to find a solution that can solve many challenges at once, and we hope Congress will recognize that solar can also play a vital role in our communities.”

Want to learn more about solar schools? Check out the Brighter Future report webpage, which includes an interactive map of solar schools across the nation, along with other resources to help school districts go solar.

Originally published in the 9/16/20 edition of our Flip the Script newsletter


Tucson, AZ: Saving $43 Million Over 20 Years

September 14, 2020

This case study was originally published in the 3rd edition of Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools (2020)

More than 47,000 students enjoy an up-close view of renewable energy at work at Tucson Unified School District (TUSD). The largest of its kind among K-12 school districts in Arizona, the project delivers solar energy to 80 schools and reduces carbon dioxide emissions by 38.7 million pounds per year. The district has been recognized as the top green power user among K-12 schools in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Green Power Partnership, and it received the Governor’s Award for Energy & Technology Innovation.

TUSD paid nothing upfront for the system, and it projects energy cost savings of up to $43 million over 20 years. The three-phase project was financed through third-party power purchase agreements (also known as solar services agreements) with Constellation. The district will purchase the clean energy produced by the solar panels for 20 years at a fixed rate below what the utility charges.

“Solar energy at TUSD is helping a whole generation of young people understand how to be conscious energy users,”

At TUSD, solar demonstrates for the school community the value of clean energy, at work and at play. The teachers use online monitoring data to create hands-on learning opportunities, and the students enjoy the much-needed shade provided by the solar canopies installed in the play areas.

Since the completion of the project, the district has deepened its commitment to reduce utility costs and increase energy, water, and waste efficiency. An Energy Performance Innovation Committee has been established that will help the district develop and implement short-term and long-term sustainability goals and prepare guidelines for all employees and students to reduce districtwide consumption of energy, water, and waste “Solar energy at TUSD is helping a whole generation of young people understand how to be conscious energy users,” said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.


Batesville, AR: Energy Savings Reap Investments in Teacher Pay and Education

September 14, 2020

This case study was originally published in the 3rd edition of Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools (2020)

In 2017, Dr. Michael Hester became the superintendent of the Batesville School District. At the time, the district was underfunded by $250,000. His district paid the lowest teacher salaries out of the five districts in Independence County, Arkansas, and he was losing great teachers because of the low pay. He knew he couldn’t serve his students well unless he could retain their best educators.

After an initial energy audit showed that the district was paying over $600,000 annually in utilities, he sought to cut energy and water costs to eliminate the budget deficit instead of shuttering schools or laying off teachers. The district partnered with energy services company Entegrity to install 759 kW of solar on two campuses along with upgrades in lighting, energy efficiency and water efficiency. Through an energy service performance contract (ESPC), Entegrity guarantees that the energy and operational savings will pay for the project costs each year and generate additional savings.

Batesville School District solar canopy

Currently the largest solar installation in any school district in Arkansas, Batesville’s 1,483 solar panels generate about half of the district’s electricity needs and provide a savings of nearly $100,000 per year.

The teachers were also asked to contribute to the savings by conserving energy in the buildings. In exchange, they’d get pay raises. Hester told his staff, “We have to go into footprint reduction and efficiency mode. If you do this with us, we will get you the money back with raises that will attract and retain staff.”

Teachers were also trained on how to incorporate solar technology into the curriculum as part of students’ STEM learning.

The district has reduced its energy consumption by 1.6 million kWh per year and expects a net savings of over $4 million over 20 years from the solar energy generation, energy conservation and water efficiency upgrades. A portion of the energy savings is going back to the teachers as pay raises averaging $2,000 to $3,000 per year and up to $9,000 per year for some long-time employees.

Thanks to this project and other strategic cost reductions, the district went from a $250,000 budget deficit to a $1.8 million surplus within three years. Now the district ranks first in teacher pay out of the five districts in the county. According to Dr. Hester, “Putting money into staff is the best way to put students first.”

A portion of the energy savings is going back to the teachers as pay raises averaging $2,000 to $3,000 per year and up to $9,000 per year for some long-time employees.

According to the superintendent, the most surprising part about the project was the positive response from the community, which is situated in the backyard of the largest coal-fired power plant in the state. Community members drive up to the school to see the long solar canopy that frames the front of the high school now. They are happy to see that the school district has been a good steward of their tax dollars.

The neighboring school districts have also taken notice. Entegrity reports that there are 20 school districts surrounding Batesville that are interested in going solar and achieving the same savings and added benefits.

Staying true to the spirit of his district’s mascot, the Pioneers, Superintendent Hester is continuing to explore new frontiers with clean energy. He already is planning his next solar project and aims to be the first net zero energy school district in the state.

Thanks to newly passed legislation that expanded the solar energy system size allowed per customer and enabled third-party ownership, Batesville School District plans to sign a solar service agreement with Entegrity to add 757 kW of solar at an offsite location with no upfront or ongoing maintenance costs.

“Our goal is to be net zero on utilities, which would mean paying nothing for utilities. Those savings can go to salaries and staff,” said Hester.


New York, NY: Preparing a Clean Energy Generation

September 14, 2020

This case study was originally published in the 3rd edition of Brighter Future: A Study on Solar in U.S. Schools (2020)

New York City aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. As part of this ambitious plan, buildings operated by the City of New York will house 100 MW of solar by 2025 — that’s enough clean electricity to power about 15,000 homes annually. With nearly 1,400 facilities spread across the five boroughs, the New York City Department of Education (NYC DOE) public schools will host the largest share of these solar installations.

NYC DOE, the largest school system in the nation, promptly recognized the unique opportunity presented by the city’s solar commitment to help prepare its 1.1 million students for a future powered by clean energy. With more than 250 solar installations either completed or underway at public schools, NYC DOE and its partners leveraged these projects to provide STEM learning and vocational training opportunities to students.

NYC solar schools education program goes full circle

In 2016, the NYC DOE Office of Sustainability partnered with Solar One, a nonprofit energy and sustainability education organization, to design and deliver the NYC Solar Schools Education Program. Through this program, Solar One trains NYC DOE teachers on how to deliver self-guided, inquiry-based learning that builds STEM, engineering and problem-solving skills in alignment with established standards.

Over 1,000 K-12 teachers have participated in the program to-date and have been given lessons on solar energy, energy efficiency and energy storage; kits with motors, lights, multimeters and solar panels for class activities; a toolbox of activities broken down for different age groups; and continuing education credits to help maintain professional certifications.

Teachers also learn how to use solar energy production data in classroom lessons focused on data analysis and weather patterns. These lessons and all of the NYC Solar Schools Education Program activities provide a critical platform for learning about climate change and renewable energy that tie to many topics in the existing curriculum. As one teacher explained, “Our school is moving our curricula towards project-based learning, and this is perfect for incorporating interdisciplinary learning and activities around topics like sustainability, renewable resources and climate change.”

“Solar jobs are the future. There are so many problems with the environment and global warming that will affect our future. We need to make the earth better.”

The program also features technical training for students at NYC DOE Career and Technical Education (CTE) high schools. Students at 13 CTE high schools receive hands-on, skill building training in solar installation and attend a Solar Career Expo where they engage directly with solar industry professionals. The Expo gives students a sense of the diversity of roles available in the industry and an opportunity to make job connections. To-date, almost 1,000 CTE students have received technical solar training and exposure to career opportunities in this high demand field.

Coming full circle with the program, the NYC DOE and Solar One organize student internships with solar companies that are installing solar on public schools. For these students, the school system where they learned about solar also becomes the place they work on their first solar installations as paid interns. Students garner the educational and financial benefits of the program while having an opportunity to bring solar energy to more NYC schools.

As Lucia, a student at Queens Technical High School in NYC, put it, “Solar jobs are the future. There are so many problems with the environment and global warming that will affect our future. We need to make the earth better.”

The NYC DOE Office of Sustainability and its partners have heard the call to action voiced by students and believe that connecting clean energy investments to classroom learning will inform and empower the next generation of environmental stewards.


Clean Energy Doubleheader: 9/27–10/4

September 3, 2020

The end of September is gonna be a big week for clean energy. Two virtual event series—The National Solar Tour and Electrify Your Ride Week—covering our two favorite topics: solar power and electric vehicles. At. The. Same. Time.

There’s something for everyone throughout the week: whether you’re curious about putting solar on your roof, commuting in an electric vehicle, learning why schools are going solar, or seeing classic cars converted into EVs. This is the sort of week that only happens once a year, so check out the links below and mark your calendars.

Here are the details:

The National Solar Tour

National Solar Tour

Generation180 is partnering with Solar United Neighbors and American Solar Energy Society for the 25th National Solar Tour, and this year the tour is going virtual. There are two ways you can participate:

  1. Showcase your solar or electric vehicle. Host a “virtual open house” of your home, school, or business or share a “virtual test drive” of your EV.
  2. Attend the virtual week of events.

By participating, you can help educate and inspire others to make an impact with clean energy—or learn from those who’ve already made the switch.

Electrify Your Ride Week

Event image for Electrify Your Ride week with electric vehicles

To celebrate this year’s National Drive Electric Week, Gen180 is—big surprise—going virtual. We’ve assembled a full week of electric vehicle online events and you don’t want to miss it. Think less “soul-crushing corporate webinar” and more “happy hours, EV speed dating, and trivia nights.” You could even win yourself a kickass eBike.

These online events are great for EV owners, EV advocates, and the EV curious alike. We’ve assembled a fantastic array of panelists ranging from experts in the industry to your neighbor who drives electric. Thought-provoking conversations, opportunities to connect, and EV myth-busting are all on the menu. So check out the calendar and start registering!

See you online!


Who’s up for an EV road trip?

September 2, 2020

This article is from the September 2, 2020, issue of Flip the Script, a weekly newsletter moving you from climate stress to clean energy action. Sign up here to get it in your inbox (and share the link with a friend).

The electric vehicle revolution is most definitely underway. Over the past year, as EVs have become more popular in the U.S., people have been documenting their experiences with long-distance EV travel, to demonstrate how the vehicles are up to the task and primed for the mainstream. The bottom line? The EV road trip is totally doable and is getting easier by the day. While it does require a bit of planning—since chargers aren’t as ubiquitous as gas stations (yet)—it’s far easier than most of us think.

Check out our top three picks for “best documented EV road trip” from the past 12 months (and tune into our Electrify Your Ride playlist on Spotify while you read…)

1. Electric Road Trip

Electric Road Trip

Last fall, reporters with E&E News traveled 8,000 miles by electric car to explore how electric transportation will change America. The road-trippers drove a total of six EVs through 19 states, interviewing dozens of people along the way and gathering data on everything from EV energy use and emissions to the location and speeds of charging stations. Among other insights, the participants found that the EVs released far fewer carbon dioxide emissions than a comparable gasoline vehicle, though emissions varied by state and by whether the electricity was generated from conventional or renewable energy sources.

2. L.A. to Vegas and Back by Electric Car

EVgo Road Trip

L.A.-based reporter Ivan Penn rode with representatives of EVgo, a company that’s building fast charging stations across the U.S., on a 540-mile round trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in early 2019. The road-trippers, driving a Chevy Bolt EV, had no problem finding charging stations along the way, although they experienced some glitches with fast charging. In total, the team spent around 8 hours on the road and nearly 5.5 hours juicing up the car. The upside? They were able to make the most of their time by enjoying a long lunch, visiting a casino, and exploring a few tourist attractions along the way.

3. Hyundai Highways video series

Hyundai Highways series on YouTube

This summer, HyundaiUSA released a series of videos showcasing epic drives across the country in a Hyundai Kona Electric, taking in breathtaking vistas from Big Sur to Death Valley and Yellowstone. The goal was to highlight how much it’s possible to see and do on a single charge of the EV’s battery, given the vehicle’s estimated 258-mile range. The scenery alone makes you want to jump into the driver’s seat and go for a spin. Bonus? It’s easy to feel good about driving through some of the country’s most pristine landscapes while releasing zero emissions.

The upshot

Sure, flexibility is key on an EV road trip (isn’t that the spirit of the road trip anyway?). But the technology, convenience, and investment are evolving at a mind-boggling pace. The fastest Level 3 public chargers can now top up your Chevy Bolt, Nissan Leaf, or Tesla Model S in as little as 30 minutes. Cities, businesses, and apartment complexes are integrating charging stations into their everyday planning, and auto manufacturers are making them a key pillar of their business models. In June, the Volkswagen subsidiary Electrify America completed its first coast-to-coast open charging route, which enables drivers to travel the 2,700 miles from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. with only 70 miles between stations. “By making long-distance travel in an EV a reality, we hope to encourage more consumers to make the switch to electric,” said the company’s director of operations.

So what’s your delay in going electric? The auto industry is on it, cities are behind it, and, increasingly, it’s a convenient way to get around, whether you’re just zipping around the city or going the distance. With scientists and engineers working on everything from cheaper batteries to wireless chargers built into roads, the innovations that come with EVs will drastically tilt the playing field. So step into the driver’s seat and prepare to have your mind blown with the possibilities.

Originally published in the 9/2/20 edition of our Flip the Script newsletter


Get in on this e-bike raffle for Electrify Your Ride Week

September 1, 2020

The first ever Electrify Your Ride Week is coming soon, and we decided to giveaway a legit, beautiful e-bike to celebrate. Here at Generation180 we’re big on electrifying transportation—whether it’s a bus, car, or bike—because it’s one of the most impactful actions that commuters, households, schools, and businesses can take toward a clean energy future.

What exactly is Electrify Your Ride Week? To celebrate National Drive Electric Week this year, we’re hosting—you guessed it—a full week of virtual events all about electric vehicles. We’ll be covering topics ranging from how to drive on sunshine to workplace charging, from effective government policies to myth-busting trivia. And we guarantee it will be more fun than that corporate HR webinar you just sat through last week. This raffle should be one indicator of that guarantee, right?

How the raffle works

We’re keeping things simple (we hope): each of the two actions below will earn you one (1) entry into the raffle. Terms and conditions apply.

  1. Sign the ‘Going Electric’ pledge below by October 3rd (REQUIRED)
  2. Attend one or more events during Electrify Your Week (9/27–10/3)

We’re giving away a brand new Evo Fitzroy Electric Bicycle ($1,499 value). This aluminum frame 7-speeder has an electric drive system that will “put a little extra spring in your stroke.” If you’ve never tried an e-bike, you’re in for a treat.

So sign the pledge below and we’ll see you at Electrify Your Ride Week!

The ‘Going Electric’ pledge:

“I want to help accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy. I pledge to make the next vehicle I purchase an electric car.”