The solar industry is now beginning to compete with traditional electricity sources on costs, but there's still a big hurdle convincing people it's really a viable alternative to the grid. One of the best ways to do this is by educating consumers -- or by educating educators by putting solar panels on schools and allowing them to show students how solar works.

SolarCity and SunPower have made it a point to make educational institutions a priority for their installations, partly because it saves schools money, but also because getting kids and educators interested in solar early will develop the next generation of customers.

The latest example is SolarCity's new Give Power Foundation, which will build solar power and energy-storage systems for schools without access to electricity. This is a partnership with buildOn, who builds schools in developing countries and runs after-school programs in the U.S. Interestingly, this is a big chance for SolarCity to test its new battery systems in remote locations, as well as build a brand outside of the U.S.  


Inside the U.S., the company is building projects on school rooftops across the country and educating kids about the benefits.

  • Last year, SolarCity agreed to supply 26 Los Angeles Unified School District schools with a total of 7.4 MW of solar, expecting $25 million in savings over 20 years.  
  • Woodland Joint Unified School District had 3,900 solar panels installed by SolarCity at four district schools and will save $910,000 over their lifetime.  
  • In September, Simi Valley Unified School District announced 29 solar projects with SolarCity, which was for 5.4 MW of solar that could supply about 75% of each site's electricity.

These projects also came with monitoring, which teachers and students could use to learn about solar power generation and their own energy usage.

SunPower is building a plethora of systems on school rooftops, just a few of which I've highlighted below.

  • In early December, SunPower contracted with 16 schools in Oakland Unified School District to build solar systems that will reduce electricity costs by 46%.  
  • In November, SunPower announced it had installed 20 MW of solar power systems on 12 community college districts in California, which would save around $5.4 million in electricity costs annually.  
  • Sweetwater Union High School District had 3.3 MW of SunPower solary systems installed at six schools earlier this year and is signed on to install 6.4 MW at another 16 campuses. Over 20 years, the systems expect to save the district $6 million.

In addition, some of these districts can offer students the opportunity to go to SunPower's Solar Science Academy, which began in 2012. It's a project- and work-based program offered to about 250 students from 10 California school districts over a week of solar-focused learning.  

Education is key in solar
As you can see, SolarCity and SunPower both view education as a key component to their success, and doing some of that education in schools and by installing solar on schools is an important component. Long term, this should make young people more comfortable with the concept of rooftop solar and spread the word about its benefits. That's a positive step for the industry.

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The article SolarCity and Sunpower: Keys to Solar Growth originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of SunPower and personally owns share and has the following options: long January 2015 $5 calls on SunPower, long January 2015 $7 calls on SunPower, long January 2015 $15 calls on SunPower, long January 2015 $25 calls on SunPower, and long January 2015 $40 calls on SunPower. The Motley Fool recommends SolarCity. The Motley Fool owns shares of SolarCity. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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