Text: Gill Anderson
There’s been a huge amount of discussion regarding the way children are educated in the UK of late, with successive Governments constantly reversing decisions on teaching methods, but sadly, little of this discussion has focussed on the sustainability of the school premises.
Many schools, occasionally prompted by the local authority’s stance, but more often by a genuine desire on the part of the kids and their teachers, are talking about going green, but Aldington Primary in Kent is one of five schools that has done something about it. The recent installation of solar panels, carried out by Ardenham Energy, is producing free energy from the suns rays.
‘These children are going to be the biggest ambassadors of green energy of our time,’ says head teacher, Mrs MacCourt, who stresses that their enthusiasm for the project has been fantastic. ‘We got the children involved from the very beginning, starting with debates and acting out the various people who make the decisions, from the planners to the residents and local environmentalists. We have discussed all the pros and cons with them, and its all been highly educational.’
Taking it a step further
It was evident that the school’s staff and pupils were doing as much as they possibly could by adopting all the standard energy saving options in the building, such as insulation, the temperature controlled at 19 degrees, double glazing, switching lights off when rooms were empty, so the logical move was to introduce a renewable energy project. The school’s head teacher explains: ‘Our next step was to look at generating our own power, and solar PV came out as the best option.’
A wind turbine had been considered, but Planning issues meant that Solar PV was a much more straightforward option in this instance. This type of installation has an extremely low impact on the environment as the panels are placed out of the way on existing roofs, which really can’t be seen.
James Hoare is managing director of Aylesbury-based Ardenham Energy, which has installed more than 600 solar PV systems to date. He comments: ‘The Feed-In Tariff introduced last April has meant that the interest in solar PV in particular has rocketed. As fuel prices rise, this incentive gives all energy producers a chance to move away from conventional fossil fuels and generate their own power supply from renewables instead.
‘Furthermore the payment offered to do this is a guaranteed rate, index linked and continues for the next 25 years!
‘THESE CHILDREN ARE GOING TO BE THE BIGGEST AMBASSADORS OF GREEN ENERGY OF OUR TIME’
Aldington Primary has tried hard to reduce both energy consumption and associated costs over the last three years. It has been recognised with the National Eco School Green Flag Award, for its work on reducing energy waste and re-using and recycling materials. It has also gained recognition, through the Kent Clean School Red Flag Award, for the strong links established within and across the local community.
‘Seeing solar panels in action at their own school, and seeing the difference it makes in electricity costs via the meters displayed on each class’s computers, plus the money-making potential when exporting what we don’t use back to the Grid, gives them a real grasp of sustainability,’ comments Mrs MacCourt.
‘It really makes them (or should I say us?) think too about how we use energy so frivolously. This project really will be a case of the children educating the older generation. This is their moment; it’s new, exciting and it will be a crucial part their lives in future.’
‘THIS PROJECT REALLY WILL BE A CASE OF THE CHILDREN EDUCATING THE OLDER GENERATION’
The National Energy Foundation (NEF) is an educational charity based in Milton Keynes that has been working with children, school groups and local authorities for more than 15 years, particularly in the Midlands and the east of England.
NEF produces renewable energy kits for schools – hands-on tools that can be used to add value to studies across the curriculum. They can also be useful for data logging activities by the children. The kits comprise a wind turbine, solar water heating and solar PV equipment, complete with activity sheets for class use.
Sadly, the charity has had to cut back on its involvement in school and community projects – its green energy machine used to tour schools, educating and inspiring youngsters, and vital classroom visits have also been curtailed.
Inner city savings
However, not all schools have sunk back into fossil fuel-reliant apathy. Gillespie School in Islington is another educational establishment to have a solar PV system installed by Ardenham Energy. Head teacher Mark Owen comments: ‘We are very excited to have solar panels fitted to the roof of our school. Over time will we be able to reduce our carbon footprint, and in the process educate our children about the importance of more sustainable forms of energy. They are the next generation and will hopefully be inspired to find solutions to developing a greener planet as they grow up.’
Bedford Borough Council has also teamed up with Ardenham to install solar panels on three of its schools – Scott and Brickhill Lower School and Beauchamp Middle School.
The works were carried out over a half term break in order to minimise disruption. Although Bedford Council considers the move to be a vital part of improving the efficiency of the buildings and reducing the carbon footprint of the schools, Cllr Royden, the portfolio holder for the environment at the Council claims that it is also an invaluable edu cation tool for the children.
‘Watching what the panels are producing, which can be tracked on display monitors on the school’s PCs is a great way for children to learn what impact this technology is having on producing electricity,’ explains Cllr Royden. ‘It will also make children and teachers more aware of energy usage and give an understanding of how behaviours can affect the readings.’
Nationwide Solar has already installed more than a thousand panels on seven school premises with the aid of European grants. The income generated will be split between the installer and the schools, which will of course receive the additional benefit of free power. Nationwide’s MD, Russ Cowan said: ‘The scaffolding would go up at four pm on a Friday as soon as the school closed and the fitters and electricians would be there first thing
in the morning.’ Rawmarsh Sandhill Primary had 137 panels fitted in just this way. Head teacher, Richard Chapman believes they’re proving to be a great success, educating the kids as well as saving energy.
Since the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme (formerly known as the Carbon Reduction Commitment) was introduced in the UK last April, schools have had a critical role to play, and are obligated within this scheme to actively monitor, record and reduce their energy consumption.