Fifth grade students from Rosa Parks flick the switch to activate the new solar installation. Photo: Lance Knobel
Fifth grade students from Rosa Parks flick the switch to activate the new solar installation. Photo: Lance Knobel

Rosa Parks Elementary School became Berkeley’s fifth solar school on Monday when students flicked a switch to activate a new rooftop installation of solar cells.

According to Pauline Follansbee, fiscal services director for Berkeley Unified School District, the Rosa Parks solar project will save $50,000 in utility costs over the next five years. She said the five schools together save the district around $100,000 a year.

“We have a focus on environmental science,” said Rosa Parks Principal Paco Furlan. “It’s real learning in action to have the solar panels.” 

Furlan said students will be able to log on to a website to observe the power generated by the school’s solar cells in real time.

The installation was made possible by a $200,000 grant from the PG&E Solar Schools Program. Ezra Garrett, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer from PG&E, said that when the company started the program nine years ago, most school districts were not interested. Berkeley schools, he said, were early adopters of what started as “solar on a stick” and has now expanded to full-scale solar panel installations, like the one at Rosa Parks.

“All the money in the world doesn’t matter if you don’t have the right partners,” Garrett said.

East Bay-based SunPower installed the rooftop project using a new bracketing system which does not require bolting into the roof.

Karen Meyer, a Rosa Parks parent, wrote the successful grant application for the project five years ago. Furlan said that although the grant process took a long time, the school benefited from having far more efficient and less costly solar cells because of the technological and market changes since the original grant application.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...