A Melbourne school’s investment in solar is paying immediate dividends, writes Matt Culkin of Greenwood Solutions.

The rising cost of energy in Australia is becoming an all too familiar talking point. But for public sector organisations such as schools, the importance of keeping a firm grasp on energy costs has become paramount. Traditional allocations for education need to stay in education and not to be diverted to manage rising energy costs.

At Jackson School, a special needs school in St Albans, Victoria, principal Joan O’Connor-Cox decided it was time to do something and asked Greenwood Solutions to solve her energy predicament.

Greenwood Solutions logged power at the school and analysed the interval data from its retailer. It was apparent that a combination of LED lighting changeover and PV solar were the most viable options given the suitable roof space available.

There were some complexities involved in managing a project of this size in a school with children with disabilities. There was no option to complete the project with students and staff on-site and a 10-day window during the spring school holidays would have to do. Design and organisation were key to delivering the project within the timeframe.

Proof of the project’s success is in the data for yield generation from the PV arrays, where production is closely matched to the load requirement of the school on a normal operating day. On a particularly sunny day a small amount of excess energy is produced and sold back into the grid. This was achieved by carefully arranging the locations and direction of the PV arrays in order to achieve maximum generation.

Educated design and interaction with the install team can play an integral part of the efficiency of a system. Even if it only improves the system by 2-3%, the cost benefit to client can be immense. Close attention was paid to the balance of panels facing north-east and north-west to help achieve the correlation between production from solar and the loads from the school.

Where generation matches load

Organisations like schools use most of their energy during the day and solar is a great fit. The students and staff arrive as the sun is rising and the loads continue to rise as lighting, heating, cooling and technologies are switched on. Later in the day the loads wind down as the sun lowers in the sky.

Greenwood Solutions supplied a wireless monitoring system, which is screened on a TV at the main reception so that staff and students can keep an eye on how the system performs. The staff will also have the ability to login and view the system performance as they please. Having this available provides engagement to the people who benefit from having the system installed. Whilst there continue to be challenges with education and engagement with renewable energy, measures like this can help ordinary people understand the benefits at a primary level.

The Jackson School also partnered with Greenwood to do a complete changeover from fluoro to LED lighting. This next stage of the project will be completed over the summer school holidays. It has been estimated conservatively that LED changeover could save the school a further 20% from its energy bill. An allowance was made for this during the design and sizing of the PV system so the system wouldn’t be oversized once the loads have been reduced.

Being able to assist a client while also providing engagement within its community has made the Jackson School project an innovative example of how renewables and education can work together to create more sustainable communities.

“Our decision to have solar installed was strategic,” says principal Joan O’Connor-Cox. “We had a sustainability topic driving the student learning at the end of 2017. Our energy bills were continually increasing, with bills exceeding $40,000 annually, and striving to offer authentic educational opportunities for our students meant we wanted to show our students how we could use renewable energy to be more sustainable.”

O’Connor-Cox says she has been amazed at the data from the system and will track the benefits the school gains from its investment.