900th post: Solar or PV?

I thought I would save this post for something special, but I couldn’t wait, so just noting in passing that today is my birthday, I wanted to comment on the apparent lack of inclusion of schools in Labour’s announcement about renewable energy this morning. After all, climate change and reducing fossil fuel use is something very urgent and special. For everyone

The announcement from Labour talks of solar panels when I think that they mean photovoltaic panels, generating electricity and not just heating water. More concerning to me is that there is no mention of installing such panels on schools or other public buildings in the announcement. Indeed, the announcement reads more like a bribe than an energy policy advocating renewables as a way forward.

Way back in 2007, in a chapter in a book edited by Duncan Brack and called ‘Reinventing the State’, I advocated that ‘schools should take the lead in areas such as renewable energy use.’ In the chapter I wrote in the book, I suggested ’the use of community bonds to fund capital developments associated with both energy saving and the adoption of renewable supplies’. I also suggested that such schemes would also help in the education of future generations about the need for the responsible stewardship of our plant.

Earlier this year, I suggested all governing bodies should be required to undertake an audit to see if they can reduce the carbon footprint of their school and increase the use of renewable energy. I suggested starting by substituting cooking by gas with cooking using electricity in school kitchens. Schools might also encourage more cycling and walking to and from schools and less use of parent’s cars to transport pupils. How about a policy of some school minibuses being electric powered, especially where they are only used for short distance journeys.

Councils that commission home to school transport could require all taxis undertaking journeys of less than a specified distance to be electric powered vehicles and, if operators want to charge more, perhaps councils could offer lease deals to prevent costs spiraling out of control.

I wonder if new schools are being built with grey water recycling facilities and other energy saving specifications. Maybe, like sprinkler systems, the government doesn’t think these type of changes are appropriate for new schools?

As regular readers know, I also have a think about how school playgrounds and other outdoor spaces could be used to help create renewable energy during the long periods of the years when they are not being used for their designated purpose. Someone told me of a road surface being trialed in France that might be used. I will see if I can follow up on this idea.

Finally, has your school introduced a policy to eliminate the use of plastics where possible and how well are you succeeding? Should the DfE being providing more help and encouragement?







Energy policy for schools

Yesterday, at Oxfordshire’s Cabinet meeting I asked a question about how many maintained schools in the county had renewable energy scheme with either PV or solar panel in place on their roofs? I put this question down a couple of weeks ago before the current protests in London started and I certainly didn’t know that Greta Thunberg, the 16 year-old Swedish climate change campaigner would be in London yesterday.

After some ‘toing and froing’ about who would answer the question, either the Cabinet Member for property or the Cabinet Member for Education, the issue was solved by the absence of the former and the presence of the latter at the meeting.

The formal question and answer are set out below:

Question: “How many maintained schools in Oxfordshire have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds?”

 Answer: ‘The Council does not hold a database with this information, as schools would need to register for the FIT (Feed In Tariff) themselves, information on the installation and/or registration is not readily available. On request at such short notice we have been able to ascertain that 30 of our maintained schools have either solar or photo-voltaic panels on their roofs or elsewhere on school grounds.’

Whether the lack of a database is a result of the collapse of Carillion over a year ago isn’t clear, but I am surprised that the County knows so little about maintained schools. Of course, nobody probably knows about all the secondary schools in the county, as all except one are academies. Then there are a large number of private schools. What their energy policy is, I guess nobody knows as a matter of record.

For this reason, when the school strikes started, I suggested a more positive policy would be for these young people to start an audit of their schools and ask for a policy moving towards cutting carbon emissions. This seemed a more positive approach than missing lessons, even if less dramatic. They could also campaign for more walking and cycling to schools by their fellow students.

My supplementary question yesterday, put at the meeting, was to ask what the Cabinet Member for education would do, especially in encouraging the Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocese to improve the generation of renewable energy by their schools. The Anglican Diocese of Oxford has generally had a very negative attitude to the use of the roofs of their schools to generate electricity. In my view it is time this changed.

I also asked about my own bugbear, school’s playgrounds and outside spaces. For 175 days a year they are largely unused, and for the other 190 days only partly used. Can research help to make them a more productive asset in our quest for cleaner energy?

Finally, I attended a wonderful concert in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre last evening. Under the beautiful painted ceiling, first the Oxfordshire County Youth Orchestra played three pieces, and then the Sydney Youth Orchestra completed their UK tour by playing Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony. Those that know this symphony will be aware of how demanding it is to play.

As I left, I pondered on the growth of the aviation industry that had made their tour possible, but is such a threat to or planet. Tacking fuel emissions from jet engines is a much bigger challenge than using school playgrounds to create energy, but both must surely play a part in tacking climate change.



Gas cooking?

According to the BBC new this morning, the Prime Minister addressed a gathering of Tory activists in Oxford yesterday, at their National Conservative Convention. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-47346630

At the same time as the Conservatives were gathering in the City, I was attending the spring meeting of the Liberal Democrat Education Association also being held in Oxford. Now it is worth pointing out that the Lib Dem meeting was attended by the Lib Dem MP for part of the City and some of the county and city councillors elected as Liberal Democrats for wards and divisions across the City. On the other hand, the Conservatives currently only have an elected MEP to represent the City; irony or irony. There are no Conservative MPs, County or city councillors elected anywhere in the City of Oxford, and their lack isn’t due to any defections, recent or otherwise.

Anyway, enough of political facts and on to campaigns. At the Lib Dem education conference, I proposed that we build on the report of the Committee on Climate Change issued last week that stated as an aim that, ‘From 2025 at the latest, no new homes should be connected to the gas grid.’ https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/UK-housing-Fit-for-the-future-CCC-2019.pdf The same aim should be true for new public buildings, including new schools, of which there are likely to many built in Oxfordshire over the next decade to cope with the 100,000 new homes to be constructed across the county.

However, I would go further than just eradicating gas from the design of new buildings, and I proposed a campaign to start by looking at school and college kitchens in both state and private schools and colleges, as well as our universities and asking, ‘are you cooking with gas?’

There should then be a operation, if necessary backed either with funds culled from excessive school balances or some other source of funding, to replace existing gas cookers with alternatives, such as induction hobs. Once gas cooking has been removed from education establishments, whether used for cooking meals or in food technology (home economics for those of my generation, and domestic science for those with even longer memories) lessons, where they still exist, we can then move on to the bigger task of asking how schools and colleges are heated and what can be done to reduce their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by changing from gas heating systems?

I also wonder whether those pupils that went on strike over climate change could start an audit of climate performance in their schools, working along with their School Councils and governing bodies. After all, Strikes demonstrate concern: actions demonstrates commitment to change. From such small acorns in individual schools, might the mighty oak or real change start to grow.

Of course the biggest resource in schools that could help climate change is the playground. As I have pointed out before, playgrounds are used for their intended purpose for a fraction of the year. Could some clever researcher help turn them into a source of power for heating and light as well as where children can gather and play?