When one large Southern California school district sought to fight its rising 15 cents per kilowatt hour utility bill, a photovoltaic system was a natural solution. Securing school board funding became possible only through the district's pledge to use the system as a community-wide educational tool for students and parents. Using a set of comprehensive district-wide standards and baseline designs created by Syska Hennessy Group, a combination of five middle and high schools (including both new and existing facilities of different sizes), set out to install five PV systems in applications specific to each school.

The district employed both the grid-tied and the standalone PV systems. The grid-tied integrated system made of thin PV tiles (not panels) was installed on the roof of the new schools to function as a part of the roofing system itself. These PV tiles can be made to match the color of the building's roofing tiles and are integrated into the roof, providing aesthetic appeal.

The standalone system created for the school district was designed for the sole purpose of educating its students. Situated in one classroom within each school, between one and four PV modules use a DC-powered fan (a simple blade that rotates) to mirror the PV on the school's roof, simulating real solar energy harvesting. This provides an opportunity for students, parents, administrators and board members to see how solar-energy generation works firsthand and how much energy it can really produce.

Although the applications differ according to the specifications at each school, the standards document created helps the district maintain uniformity across their PV systems, streamlining the installation, performance and maintenance of each.

There is no typical on-campus PV installation. The amount of sunlight and the availability of local, regional and federal incentives coupled with a school's individual sustainability goals will shape each system. But, one thing remains uniform — the viability of PV technology for schools. From K-12 facilities to university campuses, PVs are now teaching theoretical and practical lessons that promise to drive sustainability beyond the classroom and into the next generation.

Read the main story, "Photo Finish," to learn more.