June 29, 2015

Sun rises on plan for school energy savings

Schools are being encouraged to take practical action on energy efficiency and the use of solar power to reduce their power bills and build a greener, more sustainable future.

Schools are being encouraged to take practical action on energy efficiency and the use of solar power to reduce their power bills and build a greener, more sustainable future.

Environmental sustainability, energy efficiency and renewable energy are subjects that have been a part of the curriculum in Australian schools for some time. However, recently schools are taking more practical measures and many schools are looking more closely at reducing their energy consumption and being more environmentally sustainable.

Rising electricity costs, however, have put pressure on school budgets and some schools are now facing major capital works investment to be able to meet their increasing demand for more and more power. A solution has been identified in smarter energy management coupled with the use of solar energy – fuelling increasing interest from schools – that can delay the cost of significant infrastructure upgrades such as transformers.

“Electricity is a significant cost for schools and a growing one,” says David Edwards, CEO of national schools procurement body ASCA. “When schools are in a growth area there can be some massive increases taking place and they’re looking at having to move up to new plants which can be a huge cost.”

Recognising the benefits schools can reap by embracing new energy efficient technology and the use of solar power, ASCA last year added an energy services component to its offering for its 3400 schools membership. ASCA also appointed leading Australian company CSR’s Bradford Energy Solutions division as its exclusive energy efficiency and solar partner.

Working together with NAB, Bradford has developed a multi-faceted program for schools that includes an energy efficiency and solar program while also removing a major barrier to investment – the cost. NAB has designed a financial solution that allows schools to use the power savings to repay the loan for the investment. Data coming through from Bradford’s assessments of schools is showing potential reductions of more than 40 percent to power bills.

Cash flow benefits

Under the program, Bradford looks after the delivery of an energy efficiency upgrade and solar system to the school with responsibility for providing all equipment, installation, ongoing maintenance and warranties. NAB provides the financing that ensures the loan tenor is set so the school’s capital outlay is negligible or, in some instances, there is a cash flow benefit from the start.

“The aim is to allow schools to make an investment in solar and energy efficiency that will deliver a cash flow that can be used to service the loan,” says Andrew Loveridge, NAB Head of Government, Education and Community Business. “It means schools can invest in sustainability without significant impact to their budgets.”

The program is structured so schools can take optimal advantage of solar rebates offered by the Federal Government’s Renewable Energy Target Scheme of up to $70,000 (zone 3, 100kW rebate), while also gaining a well-designed upgrade and assets that will deliver benefits for the school now and into the future. While in most locations the rebate will be factored into the servicing of the loan, some schools – because of their local climate and the cost of their power – will be able to pocket the rebate while their power savings pays off the loan.

Adding to its appeal, the program also incorporates an educational package that allows students to get involved in tracking and analysing the energy production profile of the school.

“Students are very interested in making a difference for the environment,” says ASCA’s Edwards. “The program has a curriculum link so it engages the students in a practical way. It’s not just a theoretical discussion about reducing energy costs, they can actually see it working in their school.”

Tailored to each school

The heart of the program’s effectiveness is that it’s engineered to suit each school. It begins with a detailed assessment of the school’s energy use and how its operations can be upgraded using the latest technology to reduce power demand.

“You can’t just throw a few solar panels up on the roof and expect a sensible outcome,” says Andrew Rowe, General Manager, Bradford Energy Solutions. “It’s important you look at the energy efficiency story. We’re able to get a very detailed idea about how the school is using its power. Then we look at ways to reduce the load through detailed engineering and design. It’s important to reduce the load through energy efficiency initiatives to ensure the right size solar system is installed, ultimately reducing its capital cost.”

Along with power quality measures (like Voltage Optimisation or Power Factor Correction), lighting is a key target of the Bradford team because it’s a major energy user and one of the easiest areas to improve as a result of the latest LED technology. Bradford’s data shows lighting represents approximately 30 to 50 percent of a school’s energy usage.

Cost of solar and lighting systems falling

As well as being more energy efficient and less expensive than five years ago, the latest LED lights also deliver on longevity – in a school environment some of the lights Bradford is proposing are expected to run between 20 to 30 years. Solar has also become more accessible with the cost of manufacturing and installing a PV solar system decreasing by more than 70 percent over the past five years.

NAB’s Loveridge says it’s been a “phenomenal” fall in costs. “For the same amount of money that you could buy a 15kW system you can now buy a 100kW system, so it’s a huge change,” he says. “The fact that you can get the sorts of energy savings we’re talking about is really a combination of the decline in the price of energy efficiency technology and solar equipment over the past five years.”

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