School Rooftops Become Solar Farms Under Company's Plan

A clear, cold day on a South Kensington rooftop. Some 444 solar panels covered in snow.

"Our job today is take the snow off of every—no, I'm just kidding," Micah Gold-Markel said to the four high school students standing on the football field-sized roof. He's the founder of the local benefit corporation Solar States; they're from YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School.

"And our goal, with the Philadelphia Solar Schools Initiative, is that next year some of these students will install [solar panels] on 20 schools throughout the city," Gold-Markel said.

He's still a ways off from achieving that goal. Gold-Markel says Philadelphia schools could be a solar goldmine — with their large, often flat roofs. But to get there, Solar States is turning to crowdfunding first.

Indiegogo time

The company just launched an online funding drive to hire someone to lead the Philadelphia Solar Schools Initiative. The mission is to spread a solar education and vocational training program — like the one with YouthBuild — as well as solar installations at any Philly school that will take them.

The plan involves funneling solar tax credits to banks in exchange for capital. There would also be power purchase agreements between the banks, who'd own the solar panels, and the schools, who'd use them. It's kind of complicated.

Students at the partner schools would learn about solar. Students from YouthBuild, a school for students who've previously dropped out, would install the panels, gaining "green-collar" work experience.

Optimistically, Gold-Markel says, it's a two-year effort, maybe more.

"But we're not going to stop until we get it done," he said.

Gold-Markel says the big picture is boosting the next generation of technicians and engineers ready to tackle climate change hands-on.

A rooftop is a good place for a lofty vision.

"I tell this to the students," Gold-Markel said, from atop the Crane Arts building. "This is our opportunity. Look around, open your eyes, this is it. All of these rooftops are here, and they're waiting for us to get up and put solar on them. We just have to go out and do it."

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