Schools and sunshine go together
Sunshine and school hours coincide, making our educational facilities perfect candidates for solar power.
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are also falling as manufacturing becomes more efficient, meaning the $28,000 cost for the 2014 projects is already out of date.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
Dilworth School in Epsom has
installed a24kW solar system. Photo: TedBaghurst