March 16, 2016

Working on sunshine

Coomera Anglican College in Queensland expects energy savings of 30 per cent or over $70,000 a year from the Energy in Education Program for Schools.

Coomera Anglican College has overhauled its energy use, investing in solar power and replacing old inefficient lighting as a way to “walk the talk” and lead by example when it comes to looking after the environment. In the process, it is expecting to see energy savings of about 30 per cent, which adds up to $70,000 a year.

The desire to ‘walk the talk’ and lead by example was all the motivation Coomera Anglican College needed to make a greater investment in solar energy.

“At the core of any school’s purpose is teaching and learning, and equipping students with skills and tools to carry them into the future,” says David Dobbie, Business Manager of Coomera Anglican College in Queensland.

“It’s important for schools to lead by example, and be mindful of the impact they have on their students, the broader school community and as citizens of the world. Schools have to ‘walk-the-walk’ by setting the example they want their students to follow. What future will our children have if we don’t start looking after our environment now?”

In 2015, Coomera became the first school in Queensland, and one of the first nationally, to take up the Energy in Education Program for Schools,a partnership between NAB and CSR’s Bradford Energy Solutions. In addition to providing energy efficiency and solar power solutions for schools, the program allows schools to use their savings on power to repay the loan for the investment.

It’s also 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).

The feasibility study

Before committing, the College undertook a feasibility study, which saw CSR Bradford conduct a thorough analysis of energy consumption at the College on a daily basis for a year.

“This preliminary work was able to establish usage patterns, and in particular periods of peak demand and seasonality in demand,” says Dobbie. “This analysis was based on billing information received by the College, and consent to access more detailed information from the energy supplier – there was limited work required on behalf of the College.  This detailed analysis provided the basis for the modeling that underpins the solution.”

One of the things uncovered in the feasibility study was the significant seasonality in that usage.

“The intra-day analysis highlighted the significant impact that air-conditioning has in the energy consumption of the College,” says Dobbie. “It’s clear that this is the largest contributor to the energy costs of the College. While we knew this intuitively, to see the actual impact was a clear standout in the data and the consideration to implementing the program. There was a striking difference between summer and winter usage and the pattern of usage using the day.”

The full impact of the proposed energy reduction program could be seen against this usage and clearly demonstrated what savings could be achieved. After the school tested the funding model provided they found it to be extremely competitive.

“It had much better warranty periods than those offered by other suppliers, and there was a genuine interest in getting the best solution for the College,” says Dobbie.

Green lighting the solar program

As part of the submission, the likely placement of solar arrays on buildings was provided, which had allowed the College to engage architects to cover off on any structural and aesthetic concerns and provide some assurance that the program would not throw up any surprises.

Armed with all the facts, the proposal was presented to the College Council and green-lit. The energy reduction package ultimately selected by the College meant replacing hundreds of old, inefficient light fittings, focusing on internal lighting, and installing a 100kW solar facility.

With the first stage of the solar panels creating an impressive sight from the street, the feedback from the school community has been overwhelmingly positive. “It’s a huge statement about the College’s commitment to renewable and sustainable energy,” says Dobbie.

As the project is still underway, the cost savings have yet to flow through, but the College is expecting to reduce its energy consumption by about 30 per cent, or over $70,000 in savings per year.

“In the first year the net increase in operational costs for the College to deliver this project is estimated to be only $10,000,” he says. “The energy savings will eventually offset the costs, and there is an estimated payback period of between seven to eight years. Possibly earlier depending on energy prices.”

As the second and final stage of this project is finalised the funding solution will seamlessly kick in at the previously agreed competitive rate.

So far, it’s been a positive experience for the College.

Dobbie says: “Being the first school in Queensland to take advantage of this program, and one of the first schools nationally, and given the complexity and size of the project, we were honestly expecting some issues. The few issues we have had have been insignificant, and have been met with a very responsive and positive approach.”

Setting the trend

Andrew Loveridge, Head of Government, Education & Community Business at NAB, says one of the advantages of the program is that schools can invest in sustainability without significant impact on their budgets.

“Schools are always looking for ways to deliver the best educational outcomes, and if they can divert some of the costs out of electricity into educational outcomes, that’s great,” says Loveridge. “With a project like this, we are generating a really good outcome for the client and a really good community outcome at the same time.”

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