The SunSmart Program has installed solar power systems at schools designated as emergency shelters throughout Florida. | Photo by Amy Kidd

It’s National Hurricane Preparedness Week and states and coastal communities throughout the country are getting ready for the upcoming storm season. Florida is especially vulnerable, with 40% of all major hurricanes hitting the state, according to the National Hurricane Center.  This hurricane season, which officially starts on Sunday, the Sunshine State will be more ready than usual to recover from storms that wreak havoc, thanks to the SunSmart Schools and Emergency Shelters Program

With support from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Office of Energy and the Energy Department, leaders of the SunSmart Schools and Emergency Shelters Program installed more than a megawatt of solar power at schools designated as emergency shelters throughout the Sunshine State.  The 10-kilowatt solar arrays make electricity available when the power grid is compromised, making the shelters safer and more secure.

The major project started with a $9.8 million Recovery Act grant to the State of Florida through the Energy Department’s State Energy Program and $900,000 in matching funds from Florida utilities. To date, 106 schools are now equipped with battery backup solar power, and the number continues to grow as Florida utilities contribute funding and expand the effort.

The program also provides valuable educational resources in Florida communities.  While the solar arrays themselves offer the perfect opportunity to learn about solar energy, each participating school also receives educational kits and curriculum development materials on alternative energy sources.  More than 300 Florida teachers have attended workshops on clean energy technologies, passing this knowledge on to 25,000 students and counting. 

The SunSmart Schools program has generated more than 2,000 megawatt-hours of energy, but more importantly, it “has created a solar legacy in Florida that will impact students and the communities where they live for generations,” says Susan Schleith of the Florida Solar Energy Center.  For Floridians in need, however, the program will provide comfort and stability when disaster strikes.

The State Energy Program provides funding and technical assistance to energy offices in states and overseas U.S. territories to help them advance their clean energy priorities while contributing to national energy goals.