BPVA launches UK schools solar rooftop initiative

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The British Photovoltaic Association (BPVA) has teamed up with U.K. solar project developer Rated Solar Installer to launch the Powering Knowledge campaign – an initiative designed to bring rooftop solar power to the 22,000 schools across the U.K.

The annual energy bill for schools in the U.K. is £500 million ($804 million) – a figure that the BPVA believes can be vastly reduced with the help of solar PV. The Powering Knowledge campaign aims to provide free solar PV systems that can then be funded via a range of options, including power purchase agreements (PPAs), crowdfunding finance, community share schemes and solar leases.

With considerable amounts of thus-far untapped rooftop space available, the BPVA and Rated Solar Installer will work with the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) to help schools fulfill their solar potential.

According to BPVA chairman Reza Shaybani, the campaign has already attracted a number of schools interested in signing up for the scheme. “This is the largest campaign of its kind in the U.K., and we have so far managed to raise £400 million in a relatively short period of time,” Shaybani told pv magazine.

Installations atop school roofs are scheduled to begin later this year, possibly after the Powering Knowledge Conference, which is penciled in for late 2014 or early 2015. The conference will explain the program in more detail and will be an opportunity for the U.K.’s education sector to network with the PV industry in the “hope of raising greater solar awareness in schools”, said Shaybani.

Government support

DECC, alongside the DfE, will work closely with BPVA and Rated Solar Installer on the campaign, added Shaybani. "DECC has been very supportive. This all started when former minister for Energy and Climate Change Greg Barker launched the Power to Pupil program back in February," said Shaybani. "Putting PV on schools is a fantastic initiative and a great cause, so we approached them with our idea, and they went with it."

The Powering Knowledge program offers a PPA at £0.05 pence per kW hour ($0.07/kWh), one of the best rates for solar power available in the U.K., and an attractive proposition for cash-strapped schools.

Speaking at the launch of the program, Amber Rudd, the current minister for Energy and Climate Change, remarked: "Solar can not only help schools to take control of their energy bills, but is also a wonderful way of engaging pupils, teachers and parents around helping the environment too."

Shaybani confirmed that the BPVA will take an active role in engaging with schools that sign up for the campaign, and will soon publish their Smork in Suntown booklet – jointly developed with SMA Technologies – that teaches children all about solar power, its potential, and how it works.

"The benefits of the Powering Knowledge campaign are tremendous for each school individually, as everyone wins: pupils, schools, local residents, and even local and central government that no longer have to face ever-increasing electricity prices," added Shaybani.

Launched solely with the PPA financing agreement, the scheme will soon be eligible for funding via the Parental Bond crowdfunding platform. The model enables parents with children enrolled at school to purchase bonds – similar to the recent 60 million bond scheme launched by Belectric – upon which a good rate of return is guaranteed. The bonds are also transferrable and can be passed on to pupils at the schools.

"Additionally, BPVA is also creating a community club whereby we give every school that joins the program £100 every year for 20 years," revealed Shaybani. "Schools can use this money any way they see fit – for investing in better IT equipment, gym refurbishment, or educational trips."