Lovers of clean energy never cease to amaze. Last week on Earth Day here in the U.S. America we received an email with a brilliant story of tenth graders in from Midland School in Los Olivos, California who have converted their school to 20% energy use from solar, and they are moving forward towards grid neutrality a rate of 3% per year. They aren’t waiting for anyone else to get the ball rolling.

In 2003, the tenth grade chemistry students began their annual work with a solar electrician to install the school’s first photovoltaic system on campus after learning and writing about how solar panels operate. Every year after that, 3-kW at a time, the classes installed more and more, until 20% of the school’s energy is now provided by the sun. They even included work on the panels in our 10/10/10 Global Work Party last year!

As the school’s director of environmental programs, Lise Goddard, wrote to us,

Students learn this is something they can do, rather than simply watching the professionals do it. We take cumulatively consequential steps EVERY year, never procrastinating or being paralyzed by the scale of global climate change, while allowing our students to feel ownership of the process. According to the Midland Model–3% a year–it will take a generation to meet all our communal electricity needs with solar. But we will have far more than clean energy; we will have a generation of students who “get” it.

The key there is that they didn’t procrastinate and they have created a sustainable model to start the way to carbon neutrality. Even better, they are educating future clean energy leaders in the process. Check out their website at

For those looking to do similar projects at their school, apartment building, or office, here is more from Lise on how they made it happen:

It took a bit of tenacity to get started, but as with all worthy movements, this one found allies. A generous alumnus of the school funded a couple installations. Our local solar contractor from Santa Ynez Valley Solar donated his time to help out the school and its students. In 2011, Midland alumnus Mathias Craig ’96, founder of blueEnergy, installer of community-supported wind turbines and water filtration systems in Nicaragua, led a two-day wind workshop with our 10th graders. Midland students carved turbine blades from four-foot-long boards and learned how to assemble a small wind generator from powerful magnets and copper coils. This Midland student who “got it” returned to his alma mater to help us add wind to our renewable energy knowledge base and our annual plan for community-installed renewable energy systems.

Midland is a model that can be replicated elsewhere. Students are an ideal labor force for installing ground- mounted systems. On the one hand, it may seem like more work, and thus harder to involve and train them than it would to just bring in the team of professionals to do the installation, but that is precisely the point. It does take work to train people, but the outcome is a group of students who feel stoked by doing meaningful work. The value of a $12-$20K investment in a household-sized grid-tied PV array is amplified by the number of students who get to experience it as part of their education. In fact, given the educational impact, the upfront price tag starts to seem like a bargain when compared to expenses for consumable classroom items or for technology that will become obsolete within years. This is a class project that will actually pay for itself and shrink a school’s electricity bills for years and years to come.


To read more about this project, here’s a link:

For more climate movement news, follow 350 on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram