A renewable education

James_Turner_New_Energy_SolarJames Turner30 March 2018

Several Australian learning institutions are harnessing the power of renewable energies to offset electricity usage and help confront one of the world’s biggest challenges: climate change.

From 2011–2013, the Australian Government rolled out the National Schools Solar Program (NSSP) – a venture that provided $217 million in funding to 5,310 schools across the country to help install a range of renewable energy systems.1 The funding also helped educate students about renewable energy, energy efficiency and how everyday actions can help prevent carbon pollution. However, while the NSSP has since closed, some learning institutions have invested or participated in a number of other sustainable initiatives.

Schools such as the Northern Bay College (Vic), Christ Church Grammar School (WA) and Camberwell Grammar School (Vic) have installed rooftop solar systems to help offset electricity usage and reduce their carbon footprints.2 But in an Australian first,3 two schools in New South Wales will soon have select classrooms powered solely by renewable energy. In conjunction with the federal government, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency will provide $368,000 in funding to trial a renewable power and smart technology program.4 The program will see the installation of new self-powering classrooms that integrate solar photovoltaic panels, real-time energy and air-quality monitoring technology to help the schools control their electricity usage.5

Meanwhile, Charles Sturt University last year completed the largest single-site rooftop solar panel installation in Australia (as at November 2017)6 – a 6,000-panel system that cost $3.2 million to integrate and produces 1.77 megawatts.7 In Sydney, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) partnered with Maoneng Australia and Origin Energy earlier this year and signed a Purchase Power Agreement that will allow UNSW to purchase enough solar energy to power it for 15 years.8 In the same vein, the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) began canvassing proposals to secure enough renewable energy to offset its electricity use for buildings developed under its City Campus Master Plan. Like UNSW, UTS hopes to purchase electricity for a 10–15-year period.9

However, a renewable education begins inside the classroom.

The Department of Education for Western Australia’s Sustainable Schools, the Victorian State Government’s ResourceSmart Schools and the ACT Government’s Actsmart Schools program are just a few examples of initiatives that have supported educators in encouraging further learning for students. In addition, groups such as CSIRO’s Sustainable Futures and Sustainability in Schools offer learning resources for teachers and students, while Enviroweek encourages school involvement and operates for one week during the year.

Western Australia’s Coolbinia Primary School, in particular, has a long history of environmental stewardship, and in 2011 integrated a 10 Tonne Plan into its wider curriculum – an initiative which included native seedling cultivation, tree planting, recycling and solar energy.10 Meanwhile, Murdoch University last year announced that it would lead Western Australia’s participation in a $20 million international Energy Transition Hub designed to generate economic and technological benefits for the shift to clean energy.11 And Victoria University has ramped up its efforts to promote and enable sustainable outcomes for both industry and the community through its Institute for Sustainability and Innovation. The program utilises innovative environmental technologies to provide solutions across a number of disciplines, including water treatment, resource management, e-research and alternative energy.12

The growing list of learning institutions taking advantage of education initiatives and commercial-scale solar highlights a bright future for renewable energies.

James Turner joined New Energy Solar in May 2017, focusing on due diligence and transaction execution for new fund investments. Before joining the team, James was Vice President for Deutsche Bank’s Utilities and Infrastructure team based in Sydney, which advised on a range of complex public and private market M&A transactions in the utilities and infrastructure sector.

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