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School energy matters

Renewable energy sources

The idea of installing a solar panel or wind turbine to generate electricity seems like a good way to reduce your electricity bills. The energy that is not used can even be sold back to the electricity supplier to further offset costs.

But is there more to renewable energy than there first appears?

Is it the answer to energy and money savings?

Solar photovoltaic (PV) is the generation of electricity using solar panels to capture sunlight. Some schools in Hampshire use PV satisfactorily, but they are costly to install.

Government grants have now been replaced by new Feed in Tariffs (FITs) – payments to energy users for the renewable electricity they generate. Companies also offer free PV panels to schools, supplying and installing them for free.

To fund these types of schemes, the company often asks the school to sign a contract to allow the company to have the panels on the roof for up to 25 years. The company may also claim FITs from the Government and often sells surplus electricity back to electricity suppliers creating more income for the company. The school is likely to receive free electricity when the school is in session, but this will be a very small percentage of the total energy used by the school during the course of the year.

There are a number of problems with this type of arrangement, not least of which is the question of the school’s legal right to enter into this type of agreement. How will maintenance of the roof where the panels are attached be carried out? Will the panels on the roof compromise any building work to improve the school? What about planning permission and who will assess the structural condition of the roof and its ability to take the extra weight of the panels?

Similar issues also arise with wind turbines, particularly for planning permission and whether there is sufficient wind available all year round to generate useable amounts of energy. If there is not enough wind, less electricity will be generated, the savings will be smaller and the payback period will be extended – in the worst case, capital costs may never be recouped by the energy savings.

Carefully consider renewable technology

Renewable energy sources do have a part to play in reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions. When used in the right context they will make a useful contribution but they need to be considered carefully and integrated into the correct building and engineering solution to maximise the investment.

Hampshire County Council’s Property Services Department are currently monitoring a number of renewable installations, including wind and solar PV, to establish their performance and evaluate if they are delivering the energy savings that were calculated during the design stages of the project.

If you are considering investing in renewable technology, we are happy to help you evaluate if it is the most appropriate for your site and if it is how it may be purchased, installed, managed and maintained.

More information

If you would like more information about renewable energy sources or advice on installing renewable energy technology at your school, email energy@hants.gov.uk