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Solar PV has quartered school's electricity bills

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 8 July 2011 at 9:39 am

Solar PV panels have made a 'huge difference financially to Shute Community Primary School, a small school in rural East Devon.

Based in an old draughty building, and with a portacabin heated solely by electricity, the school's bills were 'horrific' says administrator Jenny Hardiman. Much to her surprise the solar panels have brought them down so significantly, that the school is now paying a quarter of the previous rates.

Since February 2010 the school's 9.36kWp array of ground-mounted solar panels have generated 3,509 kWh of electricity. It also receives about £2,000 a year in feed-in tariff payments.

The idea for the scheme came from a parent, Neil Shepherd, of Naturalwatt, and was taken up enthusiastically by some of the governors who did much of the work in seeking out funding and filling in all the necessary paperwork. The installation cost about £50,000, of which half came from the (now defunct) Low Carbon Buildings Programme, half from Making it Local, with contributions from the Lady Amory Trust, the Lions, the PTFA and a local Trade and Donate scheme.

The building's roof is too steep, and not in good enough condition for the system to have been installed on, although it does face the right way. Instead the solar panels have been ground mounted on a frame on a bit of land at the back of the school, that they didn't realise they owned. 

The system came with an online monitoring system and weather station, so the children can see how much electricity it is generating. However, according to head teacher Amanda Graham, their interest is mainly from the bigger point of view. They are pleased that 'we are doing our bit'.

Raising the funds was a big challenge for the school, but there were other issues to face once the money was secured. They hadn't realised when they set off that they had to pay for the installation before they could claim for the grant funding, which lead to slightly tense cashflow negotiations with Devon County Council, which is ironically the body responsible for distributing the EU funding through Making it Local.

Had they realised this at the beginning, Jenny Hardiman thinks it is likely that the school would not have been able to go ahead with the project. "It's like applying for a mortgage, only for them to say 'go and buy your house and we'll give the money to you later'."

Insurance has proved a bit of a problem too. The school was quoted £2,000 a year to insure the panels, because they are a ground array.. Roof mounted systems can be included in building's insurance for a relatively low cost. However, is seems that insurance companies don't quite know what to think of ground arrays. If you've got any experience with this, or know of companies offering reasonable rates, please leave a comment below.

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