Solar panel installations almost done at two schools

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Technicians are completing the installation of solar panels at two schools that are each capable of generating 25,000 watts of electricity.

The new solar panels also will have an instructional component because students across the district can electronically access a computer system that monitors the energy that’s produced.

“One of our goals is to get students involved in actually evaluating these systems to see if it’s worth duplicating at other schools,” said Robert Oetting, the district’s facilities director.

A similar real-time monitoring system is in place for students to track the effects of a recently installed solar hot water heater at H.E. McCracken Middle School, Oetting said.

Bluffton High’s solar panels, in addition to their energy production, will be used to shade an outdoor patio used during the day by seniors at the school.  Bluffton High students assisted in the design as part of an academic class on architecture and engineering.

Power generated by the new solar panels will be sold to South Carolina Electric and Gas for 8 cents per kilowatt hour, which the school district estimates will generate savings (at today’s rates) that will cover the cost of the panels in 15-20 years.

The $250,000 needed to purchase and install the panels was partially offset through the Solar Grant Program for Education Installations sponsored by Palmetto Clean Energy.  The grant matched up to $50,000 each at both Bluffton High School and Whale Branch Early College High School.  The rest of the funding comes from district funds approved by the Board of Education for energy efficiency projects.

The Beaufort County School District has achieved considerable savings by developing more efficient systems in school buildings.  For example, schools’ energy use was reduced from 54 million kilowatt hours in 2006 to 39 million kilowatt hours in 2013 despite thousands of new students as well as the addition of more than a million square feet of building space.  Occupancy sensors were installed in hallways and classrooms, and more efficient light fixtures and heating and air-conditioned systems were added.

Cutting-edge technology also reduced water usage from 58 million gallons in 2006 to 51 million gallons in 2013, again despite more students and more building space.