Renewables – A Minor Tragedy in the Independent Education Sector?

Nigel A-F

The Prologue.

Since we started working in the sustainability industry in 2010 we’ve talked to hundreds of independent school Heads and senior managers. Some common themes have emerged regarding the curbing of energy usage and getting off fossil fuels, and it has all the makings of a minor tragedy:

  • Senior managers are frequently concerned about excessive energy usage. Not everybody cares about saving the planet, but most people do want to reduce energy usage – because it’s expensive.
  • However, there are often more pressing tasks that get in the way of tackling excessive energy usage.
  • Furthermore, there are plenty of apparent reasons to drag one’s feet: people are confused about renewables and the related legislation; often they don’t realise how much money can be made from them; they think the subsidies are all finished; there’s that anecdotal local school that had a bad experience with a biomass; the market is confusing and hazardous, because there are so many options, so many suppliers, and so many vested interests; and so on.

Here’s the Tragedy…

Contrary to popular opinion, renewables are still an excellent Government-backed investment option. Returns on investment of 12-20% per annum remain typical, in the right situation. Renewables are now a mainstream part of UK energy provision. However, in the Education Sector, good opportunities to act are being lost through all the reasons discussed.

It’s not all bad: several schools are embracing the opportunities presented. Nonetheless, the majority are not.

Here are two examples to show you why it’s well worth finding out more about renewables within the UK, and finding a way to take the plunge…

 

Solar PV returns chart: Fandangle Hall School

The chart above shows the returns on a typical solar PV installation in a school:

  • The initial investment – the installation cost – is £33,000. (This could be funded in other ways if the school did not have the cash to spare).
  • The saving comes from using as much as possible of the solar power generated on site, so that there is the highest possible reduction in power purchased from the grid.
  • Plus, there is the substantial revenue from the two categories of subsidy.
  • Over 20 years, which is the life of the subsidy, there is a net benefit of around £110,000 or 22%.

If you walked into a bank and told them that you could offer investors a return of 22% on their investment, and it was backed by the Government – they’d laugh. Yet this is what we have here.

 

Ground Source Heat Pump returns chart: Fandangle Hall School

The chart above is an example of a heat generating technology: a Ground Source Heat Pump. Never mind how the technology works – that’s for another day. Please note the return on investment.

So What?

Most schools will have several places where they could install renewables in order to generate pockets of longer term revenue. The idea is not to welcome with open arms the first renewables installer who comes through the gate. Due diligence remains essential. But I’d suggest that every school should have a plan – linked to the map of the estate – which shows which technology could best be used in each location, with the cost versus benefit noted alongside it. And then work steadily through the implementation. If you’re not sure how to do this, just seek independent advice.

It will be time and money well-spent.

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