School to Add Solar Panels in Parking Lot


San Juan School District makes a model of the solar panel plan. The overflow parking lot will have one row of solar panels covering parking spots. Photo provided by San Juan Unified School District.

Rebecca Smith and Katelyn Newton

After additions of the Performing Arts Center and Field of Dreams, Rio awaits one more upgrade: solar panels.

This summer, the district plans on installing solar panels above the overflow parking lot. The construction will being in summer and will be completed before school starts in August. Originally, they wanted to install solar panels on the roof of the large and small gyms, but as Principal Brian Ginter explained, there are issues with this.

“Installing them on buildings that old could cause problems with roofs leaking and things like that,” said Ginter.

Different spots were examined for the installation including the back parking lot, the roof of the gym and the new PAC building, but the overflow parking lot was the ultimate decision.

“The location picked allows for the maximum size system while not obstructing any views of the school buildings (new PAC) or fields,” said Chris Ralston the manager of Maintenance and Operations for the district.

The structure of the solar panels themselves will be similar to those at the Sacramento State parking lots, and the shade provided by the panels will be a plus.

“They are being installed as part of the district’s general sustainability plan,” said Ralston. “The funding we received for this project is restrictive to just these types of projects. When complete, we expect this will off-set power pulled from the grid by about 30 percent.”

SMUD will pay the district for unused power that the school produces and sends to the grid. The project will cost the district about $50,000 of the $800,000 project cost and save about $40,000 per year for the life of the system.

While the energy saving and cooler parking conditions are positive, some worry about sacrificing some of the already limited parking spaces. No parking spaces should be lost, however.

“They’re putting them up so they are situated to where you can park under them,” said Ginter.

Solar panels can power air conditioning, heaters and everything natural gas and electricity currently fuels. The initial cost for solar panels is extremely high, but once installed there are hardly any additional fees.

The school district will fund this project, though Ginter is currently unaware of the total price. The district hopes solar panels will save them thousands of dollars of energy bills, and they believe it is worth the initial investment.

“Ultimately, it will pay for itself at some point,” said Ginter.

This exciting step towards renewable energy will hopefully be beneficial to the district’s budget. Energy storage can be expensive, but schools utilize so much energy that most energy will be actively use and that cost shouldn’t be an issue.

While the construction of solar panels over summer is news to most students, the idea originated years ago.

“A former student here is the one that had the idea of putting it in the student parking lots,” said Ginter. “His name is Kenji Enzi.”

Enzi graduated over four years ago, and talk of solar panels began before the Performing Arts Center was built, even though the idea is just now being put into action.

Some schools in the district already incorporated solar energy systems within their school. Bella Vista and a few local middle schools have solar panels on campus. Mira Loma will get a system as a part of their new science wing.

“San Juan Unified has partnered with SMUD and has purchased ‘solar shares’, which provides about 47 percent of the entire districts energy needs from a green source, such as an offsite solar farms which is about 11 million kWh of our 24,000,000 used each year,” said Ralston.


“I think there’s a couple other high schools that they’re going to try to do this summer as well,” said Ginter. “It probably will be happening across the district.”

The district has canceled two scheduled meetings to learn more about the situation, so for now Rio administration waits for more information on the installation of solar panels.