Cover story

Switching to solar The green credentials of solar power are clear, but the cost of installing the solar photovoltaic (PV) panels needed to convert the sun’s energy into electricity is substantial. Over the past decade, however, an increasing number of schools have benefited from funding initiatives that provide cheap, solar-generated electricity with no upfront costs. The most common option is

provided by not-for-profit cooperatives, whose members want to invest in renewable energy to deliver an environmental impact, as well as a financial return through green electricity sales. The Brighton Energy Co-op (BEC),

for instance, was set up ten years ago, following a grassroots model established in Denmark and Germany where local green investors fund renewable energy installations on public sites. The BEC has developed a ‘rent a roof’ model, whereby the installation of PV panels at a hosting site is paid for by its members. Not only can schools and other public buildings potentially make money by renting their roofs in this way, they also pay less for their electricity. A typical school will use about

60% of the energy generated on its site, says BEC director Will Cottrell, and will pay around a third less than standard charges for the energy.

Indeed, a pilot project at the Portslade Aldridge Community Academy has saved the school £5,800 since it was installed in 2016, says Cottrell, and the BEC is now installing PV panels on several schools in the Brighton and Hove area. It’s also exploring how to fund further school installations through crowdfunding. Nationally, the Schools’ Energy

Co-operative (SEC) specialises in installing community-funded solar panel systems at schools free-of- charge and has so far completed work at 72 sites in England, with more in the pipeline. That’s enough energy to power about 700 typical UK homes, with a correspondingly


Glenleigh Park Primary Academy in sunny Bexhill-on-Sea has one of the largest community-owned solar panel systems of any primary school in the UK. Its 150kW system was installed on its rooftops in 2014 as a flagship launch for the Schools’ Energy Co-op. ‘We have a huge roof as our building was

originally intended to be a Year 7 block for a secondary school,’ says business manager Gaydree Wrigley. ‘We didn’t pay anything for the installation and we pay a fixed rate for our solar energy, with any excess going back to the grid. It has definitely saved us money on bills, though it’s difficult to be precise about how much as our pupil numbers have doubled over the same period, meaning we now pay for more energy to power lighting and computers.’



In 2019, Perivale Primary School in Ealing, West London, became the 50th school to have a solar panel system installed through the Schools’ Energy Co-op. It was the tenth school in Ealing to work with the SEC in three years. This was largely due to the efforts of local sustainability group Ealing Transition, which helps Ealing Council find suitable schools, supports each school in completing the paperwork, and works with the SEC to offer parents and residents the chance to invest in the scheme. Ealing Council leader Julian Bell

is a big fan of the scheme. ‘We have a climate crisis to deal with and

every sector needs to support a rapid decrease in carbon emissions – this is a great way for schools to be part of that,’ he says. For Perivale’s headteacher

Audrey Dale, the opportunity to generate clean, green energy ‘fitted perfectly’ with the ethos of the school. ‘The project has helped us think more carefully about how we use energy, and now we’re taking steps to become even more energy efficient. It’s great for the school community to see how green technology works – and we hope this will encourage the children to think about how to live more sustainably in the future.’

16 SPRING 2020 FundEd

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