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?

 

 

 

 

 

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Making education greener not Greening

The government’s change of heart on renewable energy production, one might call it a –U- turn in some respects, is obviously welcome news. But, what part can schools play in this new order of local power generation and the regulation of consumption at source?

I have long argued that many outside spaces in schools are the least used public asset in the country. Playgrounds are barely used in term-time in most schools and in most cases lie entirely dormant during the holiday periods. A national scheme to use these for ground source heating and other power and heating sources would surely be cost effective. Such a scheme, allied to battery storage and other possible renewable technologies, where applicable, could be funded through a community bond scheme where the returns were shared between the investors and the school on a sliding scale agreed in advance.

Brokering a national scheme with set costs and the most effective construction methods taking the least amount of time is a responsible role for the DfE, although they could offer it out to tender for all academies and free schools as a start. It could also include retrofitting rainwater collection and even green roofs, where they were possible.

I always thought this type of initiative would have been a vote winner for the Lib Dems in the coalition. They should have pushed small scale public works during the aftermath of the recession rather than big schemes such as Swansea Bay tidal power project, where finding the money was always going to be a challenge. But, the Ministers didn’t seem to agree with my view.

An even more radical scheme would be to encourage teachers and other employees in schools to purchase electric cars or cycles and to offer free re-charging at the school site, powered by the renewable energy wherever possible. Perhaps we could start with a scheme for school minibuses?

An audit of school freezer electricity consumption would be an interesting starting point to assess how much money could be saved by fitting an in-line interruptible electricity supply that turned off during peak power demand periods. If filled in-line, the freezers themselves wouldn’t need to be changed until the time came for them to be updated.

All these ideas require Ministers with a degree of vision beyond the normal scope of such officeholders. That’s why local authorities are so important for education. They offer a more manageable geographical area where ideas can be tried and tested and then expanded to cover the country as a whole. Centralising innovation, as has been the principle method of operation for the past forty years may work, as with the national strategies, but can also lead to disasters, such as making the teaching profession feel undervalued, with all the inevitable consequences for recruitment and retention.

The Secretary of State should embrace the announcement from the Business Secretary and use it as means to show she has the best intentions for the education service at heart. It would certainly be more popular than the decision this time last year to focus on selective education as the way forward.

Don’t tax renewables

There is a device in the House of Commons called an Early Day Motion whereby  MPs can express a view on a particular topic relating to any subject you can think of and probably a few that wouldn’t ever have occurred to you, such as Carnwath Primary School’s lottery grant and local newspapers in South London. However, some EDMs are important and deserve to garner support from a large number of our elected representatives in order to show the strength of feeling on a topic.

One such that has all-party support is EDM 491 on business rates and solar power. The gist of the EDM is that the supporters of the EDM;

expresses deep concern at the changes to the rateable value of rooftop photovoltaic solar panels being proposed by the Valuation Office Agency, which may result in a six to eight-fold increase in the business rate charges to businesses, community groups and schools for the use of their own rooftop solar across the UK; notes the popularity, importance and affordability of solar power; and calls on the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for Communities and Local Government and HM Treasury to take action to prevent unexpected and extreme business rate rises for solar… 

It does seem odd that schools trying to keep down costs and perhaps generate a small amount of feed-in tariff should have to contemplate turning off their PV panels because it might cost them more to operate them than to either turn them off or even remove them.

According to a video from Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, the situation is even more ludicrous as she states in the video that private schools would not pay the additional tax – presumably where they are charities? If this is the case, then why not exempt all non-income generating public buildings such as schools from any change to business rates. However, I would go further and support the ban on any form of tax on renewables anywhere as counterproductive to their essential purpose to help reduce greenhouses gases and the use of Carbon Dioxide.

If you agree, please email you local MP and ask them to either sign the EDM or explain why they think it is a good idea to tax renewable energy sources in schools? You might ask your professional association what stance they take on the EDM.

I am also interested in the use of asphalt covered playgrounds as a source of ground source heat generation. After all, these open spaces are probably left uncovered for 99% of the year. Providing a low cost form of installation can be devised playgrounds should offer a good potential source of low-level heat generation. Perhaps a university School of Education could team up with one of the science departments in the university to devise a viable scheme that could be installed over a summer holiday period?