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Bilborough College

The future of schools as self-sustaining energy centres

EvoEnergy explains why it is important for schools to think about a longer term energy strategy

Posted by Lucinda Reid | May 23, 2017 | Sustainability

Schools will already be aware of the financial benefits that solar PV can deliver, however, the greater potential for self-sufficiency – and cost savings – can be realised when the site is run as a sustainable energy centre based on solar generation, energy storage and energy efficiency. With energy stability and prices currently a widely reported topic for both the commercial and domestic markets, there is no better time for schools to begin thinking about their longer term energy strategy.

Following last year’s cuts to the feed-in tariff there was a huge misconception – heightened by the media – that solar was no longer financially worthwhile. Although some government subsidy still remains for now, rising electricity prices and the falling cost of equipment means that a typical 50 kWp installation can still produce energy cost savings as high as £4,500 - £5,000 per year with paybacks in 6-8 years.

With energy prices continuing to increase, despite the recently promised ‘caps’ that are more likely to implemented only in the domestic market, the argument for solar is only increasing. Add to this the future insecurity of bringing in expensive, polluting power generators (such as Hinckley Point C) the decision for schools to rethink their own energy and sustainability future should now be a priority.

Where solar was once ‘the’ solution, it is now just the tip of the iceberg as part of a wider scope for schools to achieve their energy independence; innovation has been in overdrive over the last 12-18 months and multi-technology solutions are now available to allow a school to own its generation, store the energy and use it during times of peak demand; all housed in a sustainable energy centre.

Rising electricity prices and the falling cost of equipment means that a typical 50 kWp installation can still produce energy cost savings as high as £4,500 - £5,000 per year with paybacks in 6-8 years

Furthermore, solar carports offer scope for transforming regular car parking spaces into a means for energy generation, independent to or in addition to a rooftop PV installation, whilst also protecting students, staff, visitors and their vehicles from the elements. With electric vehicle (EV) ownership also on the increase, the ability to incorporate EV charging stations will also be a welcome addition to an school’s site, in part charging staff and visitor’s EV’s from the solar during the day.

In 2017, battery storage has become a key innovation that is reshaping the way organisations think about how they can manage their energy generation, procurement and consumption onsite. This technology can therefore play a key role for schools, storing unused electricity generated by the solar PV onsite that would otherwise be exported at a nominal price of around 4p per unit; buying this energy back in from the Grid when needed is therefore a false economy. Stored energy from the battery can be released back into the school during periods when the solar isn’t producing enough to meet current demand, or during the evening when the solar isn’t generating. There’s also the added benefit of a battery providing a UPS back up to the site should the school experience a power cut, preventing lost teaching/studying hours.

Unlike commercial sites, schools will have to contemplate the various term holidays where the consumption of electricity onsite will be very little. However, these periods can be used to allow the solar to ‘charge’ the battery, ready to be released onsite as needed when the new term begins. The term holidays also present good opportunity to install the energy technology solutions, eliminating any disruption to the staff and students during the installation phase.

Cambridge Regional College

In the fall of 2015, Cambridge Regional College installed a 200 kWp solar PV array across multiple rooftops onsite. Generating over 180,000 kWh a year, the college has – and will continue to – saved thousands of pounds each year on its energy bills in addition to reducing its annual carbon footprint by 96 tonnes (equivalent to offsetting the carbon produced by 550 computers every year). Bilborough College in Nottinghamshire also installed a 100 kWp solar PV system on the roof space of its sports hall, driven by the desire to save money on its energy bills, improve its environmental credentials, whilst also inspiring other educational facilities to support energy efficiency.

This article has been written by Amit Oza, Head of Business Development at EvoEnergy. He has been developing renewable energy projects for commercial and industrial clients for 10+ years, helping clients meet energy efficiency and carbon reduction targets.

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