Solar for Schools
A fair number of schools across the country have now had solar PV systems installed on to them, but there are a huge number of educational buildings around that could still benefit from having solar PV systems installed onto them.
If you’re on a schools board of governors, part of its management team, part of an LEA or just a proactive parent you may have considered proposing that your school get some on site renewables.
So, would solar PV be a good fit for school buildings?
Solar systems always have to be assessed specifically for the site in question, and every school is different, but I’ll go through a few of the common advantages and potential problems here to address the most universal questions.
The general benefits of solar PV systems, such as free electricity and feed in tariff income, are covered in much more details elsewhere on the site, so I’ll concentrate on the issues that are purely specific to school buildings.
Advantages for the School
Schools can use a huge amount of electricity as they’re such high occupancy and the tend to use the bulk of their energy during the middle of the day when the children are in attendance. This energy use profile suits solar very well as the financial benefits of solar PV system work best if all or most of the energy generated is used on site rather than being exported back to the National Grid and then being bought back later when you actually need it.
School buildings are very frequently a good fit for solar PV systems. More often than not they have a large, relatively clear, roof area and are often relatively low buildings giving savings on scaffolding costs.
Unlike small wind power Solar PV is very quiet so doesn’t disturb the school day, and unlike something like a CHP plant or a biomass boiler it doesn’t need fuels to keep running, just a sunny spot to sit in and generate power.
Because schools usually have high electricity consumption, they also often have large electricity infrastructure meaning that it’s easier than it might be to get permission to connect your new generator to the National Grid, which can be a problem for other larger buildings such as warehouses.
Having a renewable energy generator on a school building can have significant educational benefits in it own right. There are a wide range of monitoring systems available for solar PV systems which make it easy to present the operation and benefits of the PV system to the children, and they can see the equipment for themselves and see it working on sunny days
The installation of solar PV systems is relatively non-disruptive compared to some generators as the bulk of the work is done on top of the roof. It’s perfectly possible to have a solar PV system installed during term time without disrupting the school schedule.
The installation of solar panels in schools can be a fantastic learning experience for pupils as well, especially applicable where students are learning about relevant sciences at the time. We’d always be happy to do a presentation (tailored to age and ability) for the students to explain what we’re doing, how it works and explaining about its benefits both for the school and for the planet.
Potential problems for the School
As with any addition to a building there are always potential problems that must be considered. This section may seem very long at a glance, but the problems described here are mostly easily overcome, they just tend to take some explaining.
The age of roofing material is often a problem on school buildings. Flat roofs are a particular issue as they often only have a design life of around 15 years. A solar PV system should be in place for 20 years or more and it can be very costly to have the solar PV system removed whilst the roof is replaced and be put back again afterwards. If your roof is felt, and particularly older felt it is definitely worth getting the roof re-covered before the installation of the solar PV system. One sensible way of doing this is to consider the solar system around the same time as you are scheduled a roof replacement anyway. A lot of schools are part of program’s of roof insulation and replacement as part of general energy efficiency improvement savings. Saving can even be made here as scaffolding costs can be shared for the different projects.
For pitched roofs the lifetime of the roof is likely to be much longer, but it’s worth considering the quality of the roof you already have. If there is no sarking felt in place the wether tightness of your roof will never be quite as good after the addition of a solar PV system however good your installer is.
Provided there is a reasonably good condition roof covering however, there are numerous mounting systems on the market and it should be possible to have solar PV installed on your school without doing any damage at all.
The cost of solar PV systems can often be a problem for school, particularly in these times of austerity. The budget for a school to buy a solar system could come from the local council, from the schools own energy efficiency budget, from community funding or from a donation. However, if the chill cannot raise the money itself, that is not necessarily the end of the road. Because there is an independent income generated by solar PV systems through the feed in tariff scheme there are a number of private investors and investment schemes that provide the capital cost of buying and installing the solar PV system in exchange for them receiving the feed in tariff payment. So if they cannot afford the solar panels themselves, free solar panels for schools are still available. The investor will also usually sign the school up to a contract to purchase the power generated by the solar PV system (callers a power purchase agreement, or PPA) it’s clear from this that the direct financial benefits from the solar PV system will be much lower this way than if the school bought it themselves. And it doesn’t necessarily simplify the procurement process much, if at all. However you still get the energy savings and the educational benefits and you can get a free solar PV system for your school when you might not otherwise.
If you you cannot afford the price of solar panel installation for your school we can help you find the right funding so that you can acquire them for free. If you’re not sure which option is best, we can survey your school and go into it in some depth with you so that you can make an informed decision for yourself about how to finance such a project. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.
What happens to the energy that the PV system generates over the summer holidays is one question that doesn’t always occur even to installers of solar PV systems. When it’s the summer holidays schools are either completely empty, or very much more scantly occupied compared with term time. Even those schools that make good use of their buildings in the holidays will likely be using them mostly in the endings and they are unlikely to be full. This is also the period when the solar PV will be generating the most energy which will effectively go to waste (well, be used by someone else and making their energy company money rather than you)
One way to benefit from this surplus electricity is to have an export meter installed. For PV under 30kWp you can get a payment of 4.77p per kWh for 50% of the energy you generate without metering it. but for systems bigger than 30kWp you either need to have an export meter with half hourly data transmission installed or lose all of that power. There is a cost to getting this done, and you have to be sure that you’ll be getting enough benefit from it to justify the cost. Your installer should be a able to advise you, but there are installers and there are installers so I’d always ask the question of them and get them to justify whether or not it’s worth it. However, they will not be able to arrange the export metering for you. You’ll have to do that with your energy supplier yourself.
One occasional problem with anything installed onto a school is vandalism. This obviously depends on the location and the school (and is not limited to schools for sure, although the risk seems to be higher than normal). I’ve seen it happen a few times and smashed PV panels can be costly. It’s worth talking to your insurance provider before committing to the install as it’s possible your premiums could go up, or they may not wan to insure the PV system without extra security. This isn’t likely, but it’s worth checking.
I’ve been involved with installing solar PV on to dozens of schools around the country, and in my experience by far the biggest headache is the procurement process involved in getting it in the first place. But that’s true of most things that need public funding and is not insurmountable. In general solar PV is a very good fit for school buildings and all of the potential problems described here are fairly straightforwardly overcome if they come up at all. The benefits far outweigh any drawbacks in most cases.
If you have any questions that aren’t covered here then feel free to get in touch and we’ll help however we can.