Should Schools Crowdfund Solar Panels and Teach Kids to be Entrepreneurs?

Solar panels for schools

In an effort to save on electricity bills, and instil in their pupils the benefits of going green, many schools are now considering whether or not to install solar panels. Most school buildings have the space to hold several panels and there are significant savings and profits to be made from selling the excess electricity to the National Grid.

The problem most schools face is finding the funds in the first place.

One initiative that could help schools across the UK find the money for their solar panel installations is to try crowdfunding. Whilst schools are not allowed to borrow money to finance a project such as solar panels, there may be room in the future to indulge in a little crowdfunding, something that would not only help develop a clean energy initiatives but give pupils valuable entrepreneurial skills that will benefit their future development.

What is Crowdfunding?

A recent phenomenon that has recently taken off big time, crowdfunding is getting people to provide small amounts of finance to help get a project off the ground. In return, backers get some sort of reward for helping out. For instance, if you are crowdfunding the budget for a new film you might offer backers a free pass to see the movie if they fund £10 or you might give someone a walk on part if they put in £100. The more backers you get the closer you get to your target.

Crowdfunding can work well on a global basis but it can also be developed for a local need. There are many educationalists who believe that we should be getting our children involved in activities such as crowdfunding because it teaches extremely valuable skills such as project management, pitch development and social media business engagement. It can also develop greater confidence and provide pupils with a platform to succeed in the future. Business leaders have also expressed that the workforce needs to think more in entrepreneurial ways rather than the old fashioned turn up for work, do the job mentality.

Can Crowdfunding Help for Schools?

Many schools are already developing crowdfunding projects that their pupils take part in either as individuals or working within a team and there are moves to have entrepreneurial activity included on the curriculum.

Gathering the money together for solar panels would be a challenge but one that a decent sized school with the right resources would be able to initiate. The truth is that only 1 in 15 schools in the Greater London area have solar panels installed. They are missing out on the benefits of that extra revenue that can be used to fund other valuable teaching resources.

Friends of the Earth have been involved in trying to introduce solar to more schools over the last few years. In the autumn of last year they ran a competition for primary schools to win a chance of having panels installed. The organisation has, in the meantime, been pushing hard to change the rules so that schools can borrow to have solar panels installed.

Here at the Renewable Energy Hub we are in the process of launching a national solution where schools are among many other worthwhile public funded locations, that can apply to join, participate and benefit from the scheme. We facilitate the process of crowdfunding renewable energy equipment by arraigning cost price installation and high quality certified equipment for use in the project as well as managing the crowdfunding process, in an ethical and effective manor to which we do not profit. To learn more or apply click here: Crowdfunding for renewables.

The Benefits of Solar Panels in Schools

The introduction of solar panels in schools is a win-win situation and the right funding can help bring in valuable additional funds once the initial installation payment is covered. Friends of the Earth have said that an average sized school could look to make in the region of £8,000 in cost savings over a year. Finding more imaginative and achievable solutions to the funding problem could change the future of our schools and the way our children look at green technology.

Is the National Grid the Biggest Threat To Renewable Energy?

The National Grid

With people jumping on the renewable bandwagon and producing their own energy, it would seem that more electricity is being fed into the National Grid than ever before. We have houses with solar panels on top, wind farms and hydroelectric plants, community schemes and tidal power to come online soon, not mention some 130 large power producing plants across the country. With all that energy sweeping into the nation’s power lines you could be forgiven for thinking that everything in the world of renewables is fine and rosy.

But behind this increase in energy sources lies a problem with the National Grid that could prevent a number of future projects from getting off the ground unless the question of infrastructure is not addressed sometime soon. Unlike many other countries across the world, the UK has been remiss in updating the power lines that feed electricity into our homes.

What is the National Grid?

The network of pylons and electricity lines that criss-cross our country constitutes the National Grid and ensures that the electricity produced in any of our power stations or substations or by individual generators is available for use anywhere. The grid used to be owned by the Central Electricity Generating Board but is now, in England and Wales, under the control of National Grid plc. In Scotland it is owned by SP Energy Networks which is part of Scottish Power.

What is the Problem?

The Solar Trade Association recently made a plea to the new Conservative government that there needs to be some serious work done on the infrastructure of the National Grid. You might be surprised to learn that, in some parts of the country, the Grid is actually closed to new connections and this is having a knock on effect for renewable energy projects that are trying to get off the ground.

If large parts of the Midlands and South become cut off to large scale energy projects, there is a likelihood that the UK will not be able to meet its EU renewables target for 2020. To achieve that, according the Office of National Statistics, the UK needs to double its production of renewable energy, something which can’t be done if there is nowhere for the electricity to feed into.

According to many industry members the lack of capacity is one problem, the other is the amount firms are being charged to connect to the Grid in the first place. Indeed, the Guardian recently reported that up to 80% of proposed projects found that connection to the Grid was too expensive to make going forward viable.

It’s here that we get into a chicken and egg situation. One of the distribution arms of the grid said that the charges were agreed with Ofgem and that they were needed before work could go ahead on upgrading the network. Prices won’t come down until that work on the grid has been carried out. Ofgem themselves point to the fact that there has been a significant increase in the number of small scale generators of electricity over the last few years which has put the grid under pressure.

Whilst the UK may have surged ahead in recent years with their policy on renewable energy compared to some other countries, it now seems that we may have missed one vital point – the need to invest in infrastructure over the years. Whilst America and China are now beginning to implement massive renewable energy projects, the UK could find itself stalled simply because there isn’t the capacity to take on new projects.

Will there be More Investment?

This is the moot question for the future of electricity according to the Solar Trade Association and with the current financial situation in the UK there’s a problem with where the money is actually going to come from. In Germany, which has a 35 GW peak from solar (as opposed to 8 in the UK), money was put aside to help develop the infrastructure in the very early days. The UK has not been as forward thinking as many would like to think and this could bring new problems in the near future as we try to meet our renewable energy targets.

Find out more about solar pv on our main website.

The LED Street Lights That Could Save Councils Millions

LED Street Lighting

According to some, the LED revolution is well under way. Businesses are introducing it to offices for the same reasons and home owners are just waking up to the possibilities. The majority of councils also see it as an answer to reducing the cost of town and city lighting, knocking a significant amount off their operating Budgets that can be best utilised elsewhere.

But is everyone happy with the inevitable change to LED lighting on our city streets?

What is LED Lighting?

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode and until recently it was an efficient way of lighting but had one major problem – bulbs didn’t emit enough light. But the fact that the lights could provide some 70-80% savings compared to incandescent bulbs and also last about 50 times longer meant they were worth further research and development. In recent years, there have been a number of breakthroughs that increased the brightness of LED bulbs and meant we could realistically start using them in our homes and offices.

LED lighting is now available in hardware stores and supermarkets and comes in the same range of fittings and styles as other bulbs. Certainly, more businesses are moving towards it as a way of significantly bringing down the costs of their fuel bills. Over the last few years too, councils across the UK have been starting to introduce it for our streets.

The Council’s Introducing LED

In Bury they are undertaking a massive operation which could see around 13,000 lights across the borough changed to LED by 2017. The council, as with many in the country, sight the increase in electricity bills over the last few years – from £594,000 in 2008 to £867,000 in 2012. They believe that installing LED lighting will save the council at least £200,000 a year compared to their existing system.

In Plymouth they are replacing almost 29,000 lights with LED over the next few years in an £8 million city wide investment. The council expect to achieve a 70% reduction in energy bills from this change, making a significant impact on their current £2 million annual bill for lighting. LED will also help to reduce the carbon footprint of the city in line with EU requirements. Plymouth council believe there are other benefits including increased visibility making it safer to walk down the street and better conditions for drivers in the city.

Salford council are not the only borough that have had to switch off lights in recent years to save on rising bills. The introduction of 2,000 LED lights in a pilot study in 2011 saved the council £80,000 in reduced electricity and maintenance costs. When they move to replace all 24,000 lights in the city they expect the savings to be in the region of £20 million over the lifespan of the LEDs.

LED Detractors – Just a Question of Taste?

If all councils do push forward with a conversion to LED then you can expect the colour of the night to change significantly. Those who have been used to the yellow tinge of our sodium lights have complained that living under LED is like walking around in a football stadium. Most of us suspect that it’s just a matter of getting used to the change and the complaints have been moderate. LED is highly directional compared to other types of light so the beam from a bulb will travel out in a straight line rather than filter out in all directions as sodium lights currently do. The brighter, ‘cleaner’, light is also thought to benefit drivers as it produces something more similar to daylight conditions.

The Future is LED

Ask most industry insiders and you may well find that the future is going to be largely LED. Production processes, greater manufacture and more competition are bringing the price down. Whilst currently a more expensive than other bulbs, they do last significantly longer and provide a greater return on investment. A normal CFL bulb may be expected to last some 10,000 hours but an LED one will typically last 50,000 and use much less electricity over that period.

Within the next 10 to 15 years, there’s no doubt that most of our street lights will be LED and many of us will have them in our own homes and offices.  You can find out more about LED lighting here.

Netherland pioneers solar road technology rollout

Solar Cycle Path

Who can forget the headline hogging news during 2014 that concerned Nederland’s building the first, working solar road in the world. This solar road is actually an energy-generating bike path which has been paved with solar panels coated with glass.

Six months later, team engineers are pleased to announce that the trial has met and surpassed initial expectations. The 70m bike path manages to generate 3000 kWh which is more than enough power to run a small home for almost a year.

If these numbers are converted into an annual yield, expectations would yield more than 70kWh per square metre annually. This is confirmed by Sten de Wit, spokesman for SolaRoad, the group behind the project. Imagine the impact if all roads were covered, the results would be beyond amazing!

The future of solar power

Such out-of-the-box thinking is what got many people interested in Solar Roadways during 2014. This crowd funded project planned to power up all the roads within America with solar panels. Netherland is the pioneering country that actually managed to bring the idea into fruition with its installation in Krommenie.

Australian Solar Quotes editor, Darryn Van Hout says “Solar roadways could replace the conventional technology that is used today within the next twenty years”. Does this mean that the good old 250W panel will soon be the new fax machine? Only time will tell. Van Hout also states that the barriers that the technology face include safety, maintenance, affordability and change.

The PV panels within this project are placed in between two sheets of glass, silicon, rubber and concrete, allowing them to be durable enough to have a 12-tonne fire truck drive on it without any mishaps or damage. Each and every panel is connected to modern solar smart metres, allowing for optimisation of output while feeding its electricity directly into street light fixtures or back into the grid.

“If one panel is broken or in shadow or dirt, it will only switch off that individual solar panel,” said Jan-Hendrik Kremer, Renewable Energy Systems consultant at technology company Imtech. The micro-inverter technology used in the application creates seamless energy production, even in the event of a faulty solar panel. Engineers on the team spent close to five years developing and ensuring that the entire system is long-lasting and dependable.

Stan Klerks, a scientist at Dutch research group TNO – the parent company, which came up with SolaRoad – has stated; “We made a set of coatings, which are robust enough to deal with the traffic loads but also give traction to the vehicles passing by.”

As more than 150,000 cyclists cycled over these panels throughout the duration of the trial, only one defect could be picked up – a small piece of the coating, providing grip for the surface began to wear away due to varying temperature fluctuations. SolaRoad are now working on improving the faulty of the coating.

These particular panels have a similar lifetime span as today’s rooftop solar panels. (Lifespan of at least twenty five years) The team ensured that the design of the solar panels include allowing minimal light in, which results in an extending its life span.

The success of this trial is important for the future of solar power, as its been proved that the roads could generate more than enough power to run local homes, but they also provide great lighting substitutes at the same time.

During 2014 a solar road was constructed in the Nederland’s by Studio Roosegaarde, which absorbed the Sun’s rays throughout the day whilst lighting up the pathway for cyclists during the night, all the while utilising Vincent Van Gogh ‘Starry Starry Night- inspired LED lights.

SolaRoads have begun working hand in hand with the local communities and councils throughout the country in order to roll out this technology into various provinces, while a similar contract has been put forward and agreed upon in California. The future of solar certainly is looking very bright.

Graphic design by Katherine Simons

Can the Tesla Battery Solve Our Energy Storage Problems?

Telsa

While the popularity of green technologies such as solar pv have grown considerably over the last few years, there remains a long standing problem. These panels only produce electricity when the sun is shining on them which means the battle has been on to find a way of storing that generated power for use when it is most needed – at night. We have the same problem with wind power. The wind doesn’t always blow.

For many industry insiders, the future of renewable energy is not necessarily about generating technology but about how we keep that power for when we most need it.

Essentially, our methods of generating electricity in the renewable industry are transient. It’s why the technologies often have their detractors. You can’t have an energy source if it’s not 100% reliable. It’s an issue that has played heavily on the mind of those who are fanatical about renewable energy. Over the years, there have been various batteries and devices brought onto the market that have fallen by the wayside because they are either too expensive or just plain inefficient. It’s been a struggle.

Until now.

Enter the Tesla Powerball. The developers boast that it can hold 10 kWh of electricity and it comes at a realistic cost of a little over £2,000. You might know Tesla as a car manufacturers and wonder why they are now moving into the arena of powering homes.

What is the Tesla Battery?

The truth is that car makers Tesla have put a lot of money and research into developing a lithium ion battery that can be used in hybrid vehicles. These batteries are designed to charge quickly and are found in a range of gadgets over and above cars.

The lithium ion battery for homes which have solar panels or some other kind of electricity generating system will be slightly different, available in 7 kWh and 10 kWh models. They may well charge a little more slowly than their mobile counterparts but the hope is that they will revolutionise local energy production. For Tesla, it’s a market that has a great deal of potential, evidenced by the promise that more developers and manufacturers are expected to come on board, helping to bring the price down and make it a real storage option for many households.

Tesla Home Battery
Tesla Home Battery

The pros and cons of a Tesla Battery

  • At the moment, the cost of a Tesla battery could well put people off but the price should come down quickly as competition increases.
  • It provides households a viable way of storing electricity for use when there is no production from solar panels or other renewable technologies.
  • Is 10 kWh enough? That may be the most meaningful question for a lot households. 1 kWh can run a laptop for a couple of days, or one cycle for a washing machine, or even boil your kitchen kettle about ten times. How many batteries will be needed to power a home properly?
  • Tesla are arranging a slow release of the batteries because they don’t want to flood the market and need to build up the manufacturing base so it may take some time for them to become readily available in the UK.
  • Whilst Tesla in America has led the way so far, don’t be surprised if the Chinese suddenly sprint to the front of the line – companies such as BYD are working on their own storage batteries for domestic and commercial usage.
  • The batteries could start a major revolution and have an enormous impact on less well developed areas of the world. Banks of batteries can be used to store power from solar panels and feed into whole communities.

Many experts are saying that the Tesla home battery is a high risk strategy and one of the primary factors working against it is the initial cost. In these cash strapped times, the company may well have trouble getting its message across to consumers. Most solar panels link into the grid in the UK and US and there is no problem with keeping the power going during the night because it is a two way process. Those with solar panels benefit from the Feed in Tariff and may not be looking to be totally self-sufficient as those in remote areas need to be.

It is probably the case that in the UK and similar well-developed areas people will wait for the price to come down a lot more before they add it to their homes. Despite this, the future could indeed have us all using solar panels in conjunction with a storage battery. According to Alasdair Cameron from Friends of the Earth: “…wind and solar, are changing the way we make and use energy – and electricity storage is an important part of that change. Cheaper and more efficient energy storage means individuals and businesses could save renewable energy until they need it, hugely reducing the need for climate-changing fossil fuels.”

There’s no doubt that if we can crack the power storage problem it will cause a major sea change in the taking up of renewable energy and our dependence on outside fossil fuel generated electricity. How quickly this develops depends largely on how much the price comes down for businesses and home owners and that itself is dependent on different manufacturers and suppliers coming onto the market.