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Geelong-region schools a beacon for solar power

A Deakin Business School project helps local schools switch on to solar.

A project by Deakin Business School (DBS) students has helped a Geelong primary school secure major funding for the installation of a solar power system.

In a Work Integrated Learning (WIL) project, Bachelor of Commerce students explored the feasibility and implications of installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems for three primary schools in the Geelong/Bellarine areas.

Fyans Park Primary School, based in Newtown, has now received  a $150,000 state government grant from the Pick My Project initiative while a second regional school is moving towards implementing a solar system (through its own budgeting) and a third is considering an upgrade of an existing system.

DBS Teaching Scholar Stephen Williams says the project’s aim was to report on the business case for installing a solar PV array in each of the schools.

‘It linked directly to students’ studies via the financial analysis – from data capture through to data analyses and projection via a financial modelling tool. Our conclusions were compelling and led to each school moving closer to installing or upgrading solar systems.’

A key organisational partner in the project was Resource Smart Schools (RSS) with all three schools completing the Energy Module of the RSS program. 

‘This focused on energy consumption by seeking to minimise consumption via efficiency initiatives and behavioural change,’ says Mr Williams.

‘Our project “tailgated” the schools – once they’d done the heavy lifting on consumption and efficiency it was appropriate to turn attention to electricity generation. Another key collaborator was Sustainability Victoria.  Overall we engaged with more than 20 stakeholders.’

The Deakin students divided the project into three phases – analysis of electricity consumption, financial modelling, and financing.

‘We downloaded two years of smart meter data from the Powercor/Citipower website.  There were over 35,000 data points for each school.  The analysis helped to identify electricity needs on different days – school and non-school days – school terms and times of the day.  This helped to identify the key range for system sizing and the associated cost implications,’ Mr Williams explains.

To conduct financial modelling, the students loaded consumption data into a modelling tool (the “Sunulator”) built by the Alternative Technology Association to project the financial implications of installation.

This became the foundation for the business case. We ran a scenario analysis to assess the change in the financial model which would arise if key parameters changed.  We combined all of the (adverse) scenarios and built a “worst case” analysis. Every time we ran the model, including the worst case scenario, it indicated a strong financial case for installing a solar PV array, regardless of the size of the system.’

To assess financial feasibility, the students then explored more than dozen funding pathways including voluntary donations, community fundraising through to major commercial arrangements.

Mr Williams says the project provided valuable insight for Deakin’s students and its community partners.

‘There were many highlights from this project including the clear-cut conclusion that solar PV is a highly cost-effective option for schools. It also provided valuable industry exposure for our students and of course the educational and environmental benefits to our partner schools are enormous. By engaging with the more than 20 stakeholders we were able to connect with our (school) community, public sector, and industry experts and hopefully provide a pathway for future projects and partnerships.’

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