How schools can take action on climate change
Anthony Simpson, Project Manager for the Hub Solar Schools Scheme, writes about the Low Carbon Hub in Oxfordshire and how your school can take action on climate change by going solar.
Earlier this year, the Low Carbon Hub, a social enterprise championing community energy in Oxfordshire, set up their Solar Schools Scheme. In partnership with Joju Solar, we’ve already installed solar panels on seven schools and we will have a further eleven generating soon. That’s a massive 4,000 solar panels installed by Joju in total!
These projects will be 100% collectively-owned through a community share offer putting local power in the hands of local people. One of our first solar schools, Larkrise Primary, hosted the launch of our share offer in September, celebrating the rise of community energy in Oxfordshire with balloons, banners and some very energetic children!
The sign-up process was a challenge because a lot of the schools had solar ‘fatigue’, having been constantly bombarded with emails and brochures about other schemes. I decided to visit schools in person, travelling to 45 across the county – and all on public transport, bike or foot! I found that the main reasons that schools hadn’t signed up for solar schemes previously were (unsurprisingly) funding and time:
They did not have funds to pay for solar panels, and if they had – there would have been other building & educational priorities.
They lacked the time to research and develop a scheme of this nature.
The Hub model
The Hub model works around these barriers. In the words of Ed Finch, a teacher at one of our solar schools, Larkrise Primary: “What was great about the Hub’s offer is they do the fundraising and installation costs and all we do is get cheaper power and produce less carbon.”
The Low Carbon Hub develops, installs and raises the money for solar PV on local schools through a community share offer. The model is a win-win situation for everyone involved:
It’s completely free for schools. They receive cheaper, greener electricity and have a great educational tool on energy and climate change. The 2014 scheme will benefit over 9000 pupils.
Community investors get a stake in the local energy system and a fair return on their investment.
The Low Carbon Hub receive an income stream to help support further community energy projects, such as a hydro scheme at Osney Lock and a fuel poverty programme in Barton to install insulation on homes in area of fuel poverty.
The carbon footprint of our energy system is reduced: our 2014 solar projects will save the equivalent of 23 party balloons of CO2 per minute.
Thirty-three schools signed up. Of the twelve that decided against, some wanted to investigate alternative funding methods, a couple wanted to wait until upcoming building work was completed, and unfortunately some roofs were just too small!
After a round of structural viability checks, grid and planning applications (including an exciting radar survey!), we had 18 viable schools. Several schools had issues with the state of their electrics, or their local electricity network wasn’t strong enough to be connected to panels.
Seven of these 18 installations were completed during the summer holidays. The largest three, Warriner, Banbury Academy and Cheney School, were around 400 solar panels each, or 100kWp peak capacity. In optimum conditions, these projects would power over 1000 lightbulbs. Cheney was installed without scaffolding… by a team of spidermen on ropes! The majority of the remaining schools are Church of England schools, and are still being processed by Diocese of Oxford solicitors. We look forward to building these projects soon.
Local power in the hands of local people
The Low Carbon Hub wants to create a decentralised and locally-owned renewable energy system for Oxfordshire. The Hub’s community share offer in our projects gives people the opportunity to take a stake in local renewable energy generation. Our current share offer to invest in solar on 18 local schools runs until 28th November. Investing in the Hub gives a fair return, brings renewable energy to Oxfordshire, and creates a greener, more sustainable future for us all. For more information on investing, visit our website: www.lowcarbonhub.org/invest
Making Oxfordshire’s energy system collectively-owned can’t be done without collective working. We’re privileged to be able to work with a huge range of great organisations across Oxfordshire, including Oxford City Council, Oxfordshire County Council, Friends of the Earth, Groundwork, Community Action Groups, Intelligent Energy Europe and a number of community grassroots groups. It just goes to show that local partnerships can take the lead on climate change and create change at the grassroots.
The future is looking bright for Oxfordshire. This year, our community energy projects are enough to power a small village and by 2018 we are aiming to power a market town!
Our 2015 Solar Schools Scheme has just opened for 2015. You can find out more on the Low Carbon Hub website or contact us direct if you’re interested. We’ve already had enquiries from over fifty schools, so we’re going to be busy next year!
Not in Oxfordshire?
As much as we’d love to go national, our Solar Schools Scheme is currently only available in Oxfordshire so here are some further ideas for how to make your school solar:
Self-funded by the school: this approach means that the school has to take responsibility for the installation, management and maintenance of the solar scheme but the upside is the school keep 100% of the feed-in tariff and sales of electricity.
Crowd-funded: there are a number of crowd-funding platforms available, including one specifically for solar schools, run by 10:10.
Commercial schemes: there are several schemes run by companies such as British Gas and Eco Schools. However, they don’t offer the same community benefit and local ownership opportunity.
We’d love to see every school in Oxfordshire go solar. If you are interested in the Hub Solar Schools Scheme, get in touch on 01865 246099 or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.