SunPower carport solar systems at Kern High School District in Bakersfield, California.
Kern High School District's carport solar systems have panels on top that absorb sunlight, produce clean energy, and generate power, while also providing shade.
Photo: SunPower
October 31, 2017

How solar carports can generate energy and save money

Kern High School District in California installed SunPower carport solar systems at 25 of its sites, allowing them to save money and conserve energy, thanks to financing from Wells Fargo.

Like many school systems, Kern High School District was looking for ways to cut expenses, put money back into classrooms, and conserve energy in 2015, said Matt Guinn, director of business for the school system. Today, the district in Bakersfield, California, has SunPower® Helix™ Carport solar systems installed at 25 sites and expects to save $80 million in electricity costs over 25 years.

“We’ve definitely already seen savings in energy bills,” Guinn said.

The carport solar systems have panels on top that absorb sunlight, produce clean energy, and generate power for 23 schools and two administrative buildings, while also providing shade. Most of the systems in the Kern High School District are in parking lots as an efficient way to use school property, Guinn said.

'The benefit of doing business together'

Wells Fargo has helped finance more than 8 percent of solar and wind energy generated in the U.S. Since 2009, Wells Fargo has worked with SunPower, one of the largest solar power companies in the U.S., to finance 43 solar projects, including this multisite project with Kern High School District. The company provides capital for multisite projects by purchasing the solar energy system from SunPower at the completion of construction and leasing it back over the term of the power purchase agreement to customers like Kern High School District. The financing from Wells Fargo allows SunPower to operate and provide the solar-generated electricity to customers at competitive and fixed rates, said David McIlhenny, vice president of project finance for SunPower.

“We’ve done more commercial projects with Wells Fargo — more school districts and colleges — than any other funding source,” McIlhenny said. “The benefit of doing business together so much is we have grown to rely on and trust each other to deliver a quality product and seamless customer experience.”

As for the schools who invest in the systems, they receive three major benefits: economic, environmental, and educational, said Barry Neal, executive vice president of Renewable Energy and Environmental Finance for Wells Fargo. “Schools, particularly ones with budgetary pressures, are able to control electricity costs,” he said. “There’s an environmental benefit: if you’re producing energy from the sun, there are no emissions, and you’re displacing power that produces greenhouse gas emissions. The other element is educational. SunPower has a very strong educational program that comes with every installation.”

SunPower carport solar systems at Kern High School District in Bakersfield, California.
SunPower carport solar systems at Kern High School District in Bakersfield, California.
Photo: SunPower

Educating students about solar power

SunPower’s Horizons™ program features science, technology, engineering, and math education for kindergarten through 12th-graders and beyond. It has reached more than 16,000 students so far in more than 46 school districts with hands-on learning in the classroom, in the field, and through professional development for educators.

“Not only is adding solar power systems a visual sign for the community that the school cares about improving the environment, but it also introduces work-based learning opportunities for students through our Solar Energy Academy,” McIlhenny said. “During a one-week internship, students explore the inner workings of solar technology, financing, and designing systems. It’s a powerful way to share the benefits of renewable energy.”

Making the right choice

Kern High School District’s carport solar systems were completed in 2017, and Guinn said the district is still learning and educating others in the community about how they work. “We still need to focus on conserving energy, so that we continue offsetting what we purchase and use from the grid with renewable power generated by these systems,” Guinn said.

When Kern High School District decided to pursue solar power systems, the staff turned to consultants to find the right company to provide them — something Guinn advises other school districts to do. “Once you’re really considering it, bring someone in to lead you toward getting the right company,” he said. “We were looking for a way to save money, and this was a way to do that. SunPower was the right choice for us.”