The time for solar panels is now

February 10, 2020 — by Cici Xu

More than six years of effort to implement solar panels in our campus parking lot have gone by in vain. According to Inside Climate News, over 5,500 U.S. schools are currently using solar power, and about 1,000 of those schools are in the Bay Area. It’s time the school joined their ranks. 

The panels would have to be installed as atop carports or canopies in the parking lot because the buildings here are not structurally strong enough to hold them. Many high schools and universities in the area have installed solar panels in the same fashion. 

Research published in the Environmental Research Letters showed that a school’s solar panels could meet up to 75 percent of its electricity needs and reduce its carbon footprint by 28 percent. Installing the panels would also set an admirable example of sustainability for future Saratoga residents to follow.

Feasibility and cost of the panel are manageable concerns. Alumnus Kiran Rachamallu, who was leading the solar panels project until he graduated in 2019, estimates the solar panels would pay for themselves in 15 years. In addition, despite contractors’ reluctance to give hard dates and prices for the installation of the panels, many schools within 10 miles of Saratoga have successfully installed their panels with reasonable costs and within reasonable time frames. 

Los Altos High School finished installing 34,000 square feet of solar panels in time for the start of school in 2011. Similarly, Mountain View High School completed  57,000 square feet of solar panels in the past year.

 The principal of Los Altos High has stated that constructing Los Altos’s solar panels took longer than their summer break but did not exceed one school year. Nevertheless, Los Altos sectioned off the installation process so that there was still a sufficient amount of parking lot space available for students to park in and be dropped off at. The same could be done at Saratoga High.

The main opponents of the plan do not cite cost or feasibility when criticizing the panels. Rather, the plan has been held off each year by superficial and unreasonable concerns from nearby residents who are afraid that the solar panels would obscure views of the mountains behind the campus.  

Good things always come with sacrifices, and in this case, the benefits of improving sustainability on campus clearly outweigh the cost of obscuring neighbors’ views. To be clear, neighbors are part of the community, but they don’t own the school and should not dictate policy here.

Still, their firm opposition has so far meant that Saratoga High is in only the first step of the proces. At the moment, the school still needs to present the plan to Sun Power, the company that would oversee the installation, conduct another feasibility assessment and present the plan to administrators and the school board before the project can begin. 

All these steps should happen without delay. Climate change, stemming from the massive emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, is one of the biggest present-day issues that will only grow in  the near future. According to the European’s Union’s  ECMWF Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, we are currently dealing with a record of 370 million emitted tons of carbon dioxide from bushfires in Australia. It poses a more urgent threat to us than it did 10 years ago. 

Implementing solar panels in the parking lots is a small but significant step in the right direction. It would not only better protect the environment but set a better example for students to follow. In short, reducing the school’s carbon footprint matters more than protecting nearby residents’ views. The time for solar power at SHS is now.