Rooftop solar projects at schools could reduce harmful air pollution, help the environment and enhance student learning while cutting electricity costs, a new study finds. The study shows that taking advantage of all viable space for solar panels could allow schools to meet up to 75% of their electricity needs and reduce the education sector's carbon footprint by as much as 28%. 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 -- air pollutants that can contribute to smog and acid rain as well as serious health consequences, including heart attacks and reduced lung function. Educational institutions account for approximately 11% of energy consumption by U.S. buildings and 4% 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 for 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.
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