Henley School on Campbell Live

Last year the Ministry of Education changed the way schools are funded for their power consumption.

Now, if they go over budget, schools must find the money to pay for it themselves.
As a result, Henley Primary in Nelson will become the first school in New Zealand to sell power back to the grid, after installing 60 solar panels on its classrooms.

It's a move which is expected to save the school almost $5,000 a year.

The school's principal John Armstrong says while the Ministry doesn't promote the idea of solar, he thinks every north or west-facing school in New Zealand should invest in it.

"We have a lot of sunshine - 2,400 hours of sunlight that we can capture for nothing," says Mr Armstrong.

In previous years, schools were allocated money for power usage and if they went over it, the Ministry picked up the tab.

Now its user pays - they are given a flat rate, and if they go over it, it comes out of their own pocket.

It's a big incentive to reduce power consumption.

At the moment, Henley Primary currently uses about $40,000 worth of power a year, but Aaryn Barlow from Nelson Environment Centre believes the system will generate and save the school thousands.

"For this school with this system they've got, they will produce about 12 percent of their power overall, but on [sunny days] they will actually be producing more power through their solar than they will be using in class."

Not only will the school be saving almost $5,000 annually which can be spent elsewhere, but it will also be making money.

Solar power used to be out of reach for many communities around New Zealand, but since 2008 the price of solar has dropped 320 percent, making it a more viable option.

Mr Barlow thinks that if schools looked at it previously, it would be a good idea to look again as it makes financial sense.

"It helps them with their resilience, [as] you can build it into the classroom," says Mr Barlow. "It just means you are part of the emerging smart grid as well, because they're producing power on sight they are selling back to the grid, it's the way of the future."

But while it's cheaper than it ever has been before, there are still significant upfront costs that are out of reach for most schools around the country.

Henley Primary spent more than $15,000 on their set up.

However for the primary school, the positive aspects outweigh the negative. The plan is to reduce the dependency on electricity from the grid and increase the contribution form the solar energy. Nelson being one of the sunniest spots in the country, using this method seems logical.

Each panel produces 15 kilowatts of power in full sunlight. To put that into perspective, a laptop might be using 100 watts, so the school could power 150 laptops at any one time.

The majority of energy consumption in schools mainly goes in space heating and light, so what you see with school power usage is it exactly matches when the sun is up so solar is a good solution for schools around the country.

Henley has used money from its operations grant and some reserves, but it's also going to offer members of the community a chance to invest, with guaranteed returns.

The panels have a lifespan of 25 years, so after it has been paid off, the school will be generating power for free for years to come.