Schools and sun­shine go to­gether

Sun­shine and school hours co­in­cide, mak­ing our ed­u­ca­tional fa­cil­i­ties per­fect can­di­dates for so­lar power.

Element - - Contents - By He­len Twose

Welling­ton’s Maun­garaki Pri­mary School has knocked back power con­sump­tion by nearly 70 per cent, cut­ting around $5000 from its elec­tric­ity bill in the year since it put pho­to­voltaic so­lar pan­els on class­room roofs.

Up the road Nae­nae Pri­mary has cut its power bill in half af­ter in­stalling so­lar pan­els.

Both schools are pour­ing the money saved into con­vert­ing to LED light­ing, which could po­ten­tially cut light­ing bills in half – the big­gest drain on schools’ energy costs.

The work has been done with the help of eco-en­thu­si­ast and cam­era­man Mike Rath­bone, who hit on the idea when look­ing down on the lo­cal school from his hill­top Hutt Val­ley home.

He could see an op­por­tu­nity for schools to gen­er­ate power – and money – by har­ness­ing the sun’s rays dur­ing the school day. And now Rath­bone has set up an online re­source for schools wish­ing to fol­low suit at dy­namis­pro­ject.co.nz

The Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion funds school power, wa­ter and heat­ing bud­gets based on the av­er­age power use for a sim­i­lar sized school in the same area.

Cur­rently if a school can save power it can pocket the dif­fer­ence, with­out be­ing pe­nalised by the min­istry.

“It means year af­ter year af­ter year for 25 years or more they’re go­ing to be sav­ing that money and putting it to some­thing else,” says Rath­bone.

He says tech­nol­ogy costs are also fall­ing as man­u­fac­tur­ing be­comes more ef­fi­cient, mean­ing the $28,000 cost for the 2014 projects is al­ready out of date.

Four Hutt Val­ley pri­mary schools have ben­e­fited from Rath­bone’s ex­per­tise, which he pro­vides for free on his ded­i­cated web­site.

“If I can go through the whole process and do the re­search for them and then put all that in­for­ma­tion to­gether on a web­site it saves ev­ery­body rein­vent­ing the wheel right around the coun­try,” he says.

Not only does the web­site pro­vide a com­plete “howto” guide, there are also teach­ing re­sources pre­pared by Rath­bone’s wife Vivi­enne, a pri­mary school teacher.

While schools could po­ten­tially sell ex­tra power back to power com­pa­nies out­side of school hours, the buy-back rate is low.

Rath­bone says power com­pa­nies aren’t par­tic­u­larly keen on the so­lar pan­els and he’d like some more com­mu­nity-minded sup­pli­ers to of­fer schools a bet­ter buy-back rate dur­ing school hol­i­days.

He says schools look­ing for a fast way to cut power bills should in­stall LED light­ing.

For those keen to step up to so­lar pan­els Rath­bone rec­om­mends a min­i­mum of 10kW for a small school, with col­leges putting up at least 20kW at a time.

Long term, he’d like to see stor­age bat­ter­ies in­stalled at some schools, set­ting them up as off-the-grid oper­a­tions ca­pa­ble of as­sist­ing dur­ing ma­jor dis­as­ters.

“We should be aim­ing to­wards set­ting schools up as civil de­fence cen­tres be­cause re­ally schools are the cen­tre of the com­mu­nity.

“Ev­ery­body knows where their lo­cal school is.”

“We can­not al­ways build the fu­ture for our youth, but we can build our youth for the fu­ture.” – Franklin D. Roo­sevelt

The so­lar ar­ray atop the roof of Nae­nae Pri­mary School. Photo: Mike Rath­bone

Dil­worth School in Ep­som has

in­stalled a24kW so­lar sys­tem. Photo: TedBaghurst

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