Trapping sunlight by utilising all viable space for solar panels, could allow schools to meet up to 75 per cent of their electricity needs and reduce the education sector's carbon footprint by as much as 28 per cent.
The study was published in the Environmental Research Letters.
At the same time, solar panels could help schools unplug from grids fed by natural gas and coal power plants that produce particulate matter, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
"This is an action we can take that benefits the environment and human health in a real, meaningful way," said Stanford, the author of the study.
The study suggested investments in the right solar projects could free up much-needed money in schools' budgets. "Schools are paying for electricity anyway. This is a way, in some cases, that they can reduce their costs. If there's a rebate or a subsidy, it can happen more quickly," said Wong-Parodi, one of the researchers.
Educational institutions account for approximately 11 per cent of energy consumption by the United States buildings and four per cent of the nation's carbon emissions. But while the potential for solar panels on homes and businesses has been widely studied, previous research has largely skipped over school buildings.
The new estimates are based on data from 132,592 schools, including more than 99,700 public and 25,700 private K-12 schools, as well as nearly 7,100 colleges and universities.
The researchers began by estimating the rooftop area available for solar panels at each institution, the hourly electricity output, given the amount of sunshine at the site and the hourly electricity demand of each institution.
The study found three large, sunny states - Texas, California and Florida - have the greatest potential for generating electricity from solar panels on school rooftops, with nearly 90 per cent of institutions having at least some roof space suitable for installations.
Zeroing in on likely impacts within the United States, the researchers concluded that nearly all states could reap value from school solar projects far greater than the amount they're spending on subsidies and rebates.
The study showed it is true even when factoring in typical costs for installation, maintenance, operation and routine hardware replacements.
Beyond measurable effects on air pollution and electricity bills, solar installations can also provide new learning opportunities for students.
According to the study, it's not economically viable for educational institutions to purchase rooftop solar systems outright in any state. Rather, the projects can make financial sense for schools if they contract a company to install, own and operate the system and sell electricity to the school at a set rate.
The study showed it is true even when factoring in typical costs for installation, maintenance, operation and routine hardware replacements....