Solar power crowd funding initiative for schools launched

Solar Schools officially launched New Zealand’s first solar crowd funding initiative for schools today with the installation of a 60 panel Photovoltaic (PV) system at Henley School in Nelson.

Solar Schools is a collaboration between the Nelson Environment Centre, solarcity, and the Nelson Building Society (NBS). All schools around New Zealand can register with Solar Schools, whose team will tailor the best funding model for each school, and implement the programme’s curriculum tools for free.

The programme helps get solar panels on to school roofs by reducing or eliminating the up-front cost. For example, in the Nelson and Mid- Canterbury areas, NBS will advance a subsidised loan to schools. This allows the schools to approach parents or businesses to invest in the solar system by way of grants or donations, or by investing through NBS in exchange for a highly competitive fixed return. Schools in other regions would be matched with a financial institution in their area.

"This is a really exciting initiative. Solar Schools will save schools money, help the environment, get cutting edge technology into schools, and see climate and energy topics in the classroom," says the Nelson Environment Centre’s Aaryn Barlow.

What is novel about the programme is its innovative approach to funding, says solarcity CEO Andrew Booth.

"Financing solar and energy infrastructure projects that deliver solid returns have long been only available to investors like power companies. For the first time, everyday Kiwis can now invest in solar power for their school," Booth says.

Henley School Principal John Armstrong says Solar Schools will stimulate greater environmental awareness amongst students through solarcity's ‘real time’ energy monitoring in classrooms, while also saving power.

"The terms renewable energy and sustainability are very much part of the New Zealand curriculum these days," Armstrong says. "The real impact of Solar Schools will be the opportunity to teach kids about energy usage and how to take action to reduce it. Second will be the savings made for the taxpayer long term.

"The Solar Schools’ energy audit of Henley, conducted by the Nelson Environment Centre, highlighted the potential savings through solar, along with continuous energy efficiency improvements needed such as insulation, double glazing and light sensors," he says.

"The increasing cost of purchasing power units, combined with the falling price of solar panels, means now is the ideal time for us to harness the high Nelson sunshine hours."

A recent sabbatical to Asia further highlighted to Mr Armstrong the potential of solar in schools.

"Schools in Asia are all kitted out with solar, and now the technology is a viable option for New Zealand schools to produce power and feed it back to the grid, particularly over the long summer holiday periods," he says. "I would like to see greater commitment and support for this from the Ministry of Education."

Henley has installed a 15kwp solarcity PV system as part of Solar Schools, and Armstrong hopes further panels will be added in phase two, to eventually see the school energy neutral. One way of achieving this would be for businesses or families to ‘sponsor’ a panel through Solar Schools, and Armstrong is happy to talk to anyone interested in supporting the school’s solar future.