Earth Notes: Solar Powered Schools (2012)

Updated 2024-03-01 12:16 GMT.
By Damon Hart-Davis.
Cuts bills and footprint, educates children, and makes good use of roof space! #microgen #solar #PV
solar PV on school
Solar power and schools are a good match. Helping protect budgets from energy price rises on one hand. On the other, supporting science teaching on energy, climate change and the environment. Here is how I was able to help out our local primary school, then attended by both my children, where I was a governor.

King Athelstan Solar PV

Edward Davey Energy and Climate Change Secretary DECC declaring open new solar PV grid tie roof mounted power system on school roof 20120518 44 DHD

I was very pleased in 2012 to help organise a PV system for King Athelstan Primary School. KA is the local community school that both my children attended. I was quoted:

Solar power is good for the school, for the surrounding area, and for the planet. Having solar power means that we can burn less gas and coal to make electricity for the country, leaving more for other important uses and reducing the threat of climate change. King Athelstan putting its roof to good use!

Even better, our local MP, Ed Davey, was able to come and declare it officially 'on'. He was Energy and Climate Change Secretary of State too. That was good PR for the school.

King Athelstan's installation is solar PV, ie for electricity. It should cover about 10% of the school's consumption over a year. It will reduce the need to import from the grid during summer daytime, weekends and holidays most.

Conservation remains important. I hope that we can halve electricity (and gas use) or close. That would have the effect of the PV then covering 20% of electricity consumption...

KA PV generation
King Athelstan solar PV generation from installation in April 2012 to December 2022, by which time approximately 80MWh (80 thousand 'units') had been generated.

The red line on the chart shows electricity generation in kWh (units) per day.

The blue line shows roughly what percentage of the school's entire consumption that is.

The green line shows what fraction of the generation is from the "thin-film" panels. They are reputed to work relatively better than monocrystalline panels in cloudy/overcast weather. Keep an eye on the chart to see if that is actually happens! Also, when the sun is very low in winter shading from trees just over the Hogsmill to the south may confuse things.

Note that panels were moved around (and some broken) during building works for a new extension. That complicates things further. There were less frequent readings during coronavirus lockdown (2020/2021) and onwards.

For other schools, eg residential, a solar thermal system to contribute to hot water supply may also be useful.

A (prettier) snapshot of electricity use vs the first summer's generation (via EnergyDeck):

consumption and generation at KAPS

Educational Exhibits

As a kid I used to love all the exhibits at the Science Museum in London where I could push buttons and pull levers. I'm hoping to put together some very simple exhibits for King Athelstan and other local schools to use where kids can cover/uncover solar cells and watch meters twitch and motors whirr. Hardly likely to greenwash the children. But they may generate a little interest along with the watts. I remember that my dad got me hooked on electronics with stuff not very much more complex!

Solar meter V1

simple panel/LED/meter interactive exhibit

2012-06-16: I'm putting together a very simple device with a small solar cell/panel (~4Voc, 0.25W) wired to a simple analogue meter (Maplin LB08B 65Ω, 250µA FSD). There is a series resistor to protect the meter in bright sunlight.

teaching about PV at @KingAthSchool

The cell and meter are in a clear plastic box stuck to opposite sides. Covering the cell with a hand has the meter drop back to zero. To get FSD (full-scale deflection) at (say) V=2.5V implies a 10kΩ series resistor. The meter can probably stand 100% overcurrent for a while. So a resistor value close to this or a little higher is probably fine. It will allow decent needle movement even if not in bright sun.

I have put a 3.3V white LED upstream of the meter, as a voltage limiter, with a further 470Ω to the solar positive. So if the light is really bright then the LED comes on and limits the meter to FSD.

Not Just Solar

Even though generating is good, avoiding waste is often more effective. Particularly in terms of the amount of CO2 saved per £ spent. In SWLEN's 2017-09 report Wasted Energy: how money and carbon dioxide could be saved in schools: it is noted at the end that [KA] reminded to turn the heating to a frost setting over the Xmas / New Year holiday period saved around £500. All for about 10 minutes' work!

Thank you SWLEN!

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