School installs amongst one of the largest solar panel arrays in the country

The climate crisis is undoubtedly the most urgent issue of our time, as we see the recent floods devastating communities across the country. Globally, we recognise the need for immediate action and, as a consequence, grassroots change. There has never been a more pressing time for individuals to take action as we begin to witness the effects of climate change in the form of rising temperatures, extreme weather and alarmingly unpredictable patterns. So, what can we do to help?

The long-term solution is to, as a nation, reduce our carbon emissions. Within the UK, the public sector is a substantial consumer of energy and has a responsibility to become leaders of change, by making as many of its buildings as efficient as possible. Schools, as an example, are a major consumer of energy, being the hub of extracurricular activities and community events during evenings and weekends. Taking a holistic approach to transforming a building by installing multiple energy efficient and renewable measures is one of the key solutions to ensuring they are running in the most cost-effective way, at the lowest possible expense to the public purse.

Northfleet School for Girls in Gravesend, with the support of Kent County Council, has made some bold changes and taken responsibility for its carbon footprint. In 2018, Northfleet made history by implementing amongst one of the largest solar installations in the country and also upgraded their lighting to LED; both projects pioneered internally by the Facilities Manager, Andy Jarett. The council supported throughout the funding and project process, with a remarkable result that has left both parties extremely proud.

Andy enlisted the help of the school’s environment team; a group of sustainability-conscious students with a passion for all things green. He involved the team throughout the procurement process and during the final presentation to the school governors. Andy describes taking the leap as a ‘no brainer,’ explaining, “There is a significant cost in doing nothing. If we hadn’t installed the technologies, the school’s bills would have risen to £120k per year.”

With an outstanding 681 panels now installed, the overall percentage of total site power provided by solar is 30%, with 8% more electricity exported to the grid rather than consumed on site. The installation itself was also ‘very quick and simple,’ as Andy remarks, “the panels were installed during the summer holidays and took a total of just under three weeks.”

The cost of the technologies was covered by government funded, not-for-profit organisation, Salix Finance, in the form of an interest-free loan. The loan is of no expense to the school and provides the upfront capital needed to purchase and install the technologies; the financial savings then made from the technology are then used to repay the loan. Once repaid, the school goes on to benefit from the savings first-hand.

Kent County Council was very involved throughout the project and is keen to repeat this with as many schools as possible within the county. Susan Carey, the Cabinet Member for Environment at Kent County Council, says “Kent County Council has already helped over 100 schools reduce their energy bills and wants to help even more schools use renewable energy to become energy efficient. The Northfleet project shows just what can be achieved and I look forward to more such projects across Kent.”

Of using a Salix loan, Kacey Leigh Finance Manager of Northfleet, says, “Comparing our (financial savings) data between the 2018 and the 2019 calendar year, we have saved in the region of £38,585 on our gas and electricity bills and it is an exciting prospect to continue with our eco strategy in an attempt to generate further savings.”

The financial savings stack up significantly, making a strong case for other schools to apply for funding. The school was awarded a loan amount of £129k for the solar panels, which will repay through the savings in eight years and save a total of £16k annually and £381k over the lifetime of the project. Meanwhile, the lighting upgrades were delivered through a £17k loan and will repay in just under four years, saving the school over £4k annually and £107kover the lifetime of the technology.

Andy, who is from an engineering background, highlights that being able to see the savings achieved in real time has made for a ‘compelling comparison’ of the cost savings against previous years. Northfleet School has a live stream feed of the data on a TV in the school corridor, meaning that students and staff alike can see first-hand the savings clocking up; a visual aid for science, technology and maths lessons.

There is a need for us all to act before it is too late. Salix is looking to work strategically with schools to drive down their energy bills through a holistic approach, making them the most efficient they can be. To talk to the dedicated team at Salix to find out how they can help your school, please contact schoolsapplication@salixfinance.co.uk