School children in class raising their hands

Peter Solly, AMP Clean Energy’s lead for Solar PV

The financial challenges faced by the education sector have been well documented, with many schools reaching out to parents to help fund essential supplies. Whilst Government plans to boost school funding with £7.1bn by 2022-23 have been welcomed, the sector has raised concerns that a shortfall will remain following a decade of budget cuts.

Volatile and increasing energy costs only add to the financial burden. So, could reducing energy cost production over the long-term help schools and academies close that financial gap? I’ve spent time discussing this with a number of secondary schools recently. Whilst each institution is different the main criteria to benefit from flexible and transparent solar energy is a large energy demand. In this scenario solar PV could cut energy bills, increase sustainability and provide an educational opportunity to engage students first hand with low carbon energy.

Environmental consciousness amongst young people has been heightened recently by teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg who has inspired an international youth movement against climate change. Schools we are working with are finding that the introduction of solar energy provides a real-life application to the theory around sustainable energy which students learn about.

One of the main barriers to schools accessing onsite energy such as solar PV has been a lack of upfront funding. That’s why AMP Clean Energy provides the finance to get projects off the ground quickly. A good example of this is the Gateway Academy in Essex where we are funding and developing new solar PV alongside a large investment in energy efficiency including LED lights. The academy simply pays AMP Clean Energy for its electricity through a Power Purchase Agreement.

We are also working with Eden Sustainable on a number of solar projects including funding and developing four solar installations at the different schools in the Pendle Education Trust in Lancashire. In addition to significant carbon reductions, the projected savings in electricity costs are around £625,000 over the 25-year term. It is refreshing to work with Eden Sustainable, which really has placed tackling climate change at the heart of everything they do. Eden group’s profits are paid into the Pickwell Foundation which connects with charities that are working with displaced people (such as Amos Trust and Church Response Refugees) and with those combating climate change (such as Client Earth and Renewable World).

Having worked with schools for more than a decade, providing over 100 education customers with renewable heat and electricity, we understand well the challenges faced by the sector. Solar PV can help schools unlock the benefits of long-term cost savings which could be directly fed back to meet future budget shortfalls. Decoupling from the grid also reduces exposure to rising electricity prices, providing a more secure and predictable energy future.