The adoption of solar panels by schools as a means to reduce electricity bills and carbon emissions means these blue-colored panels have become a common sight on campus. Case in point, the University of the Sunshine Coast (USC) in Australia has recently lowered its energy use by 40% through the installation of solar panel clusters and large-scale thermal energy storage systems.
USC partnered with energy services provider Veolia to create a solution tailored to the school’s unique and ambitious needs, one of which is to become completely carbon neutral by 2025. USC aimed to cut its air conditioning expenses, which accounted for 40% of the school’s total electricity spending – a considerable amount given Australia’s high electricity prices.
Ultimately, Veolia designed a brand-new thermal energy storage system, which saw the installation of more than 6,000 solar panels on campus rooftops and parking lots with a total capacity of 2.1 MW. The “green” electricity produced is then used to cool a 4.5-megaliter, three-story-high water tank. The cool water is distributed through the school’s existing piping to cool classrooms as an air condition system of sorts.
According to USC CEO Scott Snyder, the school is projected to save AU$100 million (about NTD$2,098 million) over the next 25 years, in addition to reducing CO2 emissions by 92,000 tons – the equivalent output of 525 households.
How Will Taiwanese Schools Embrace Green Energy?
Space is at a premium for most Taiwanese schools, which cannot house large-scale thermal energy storage systems. However, rooftop solar panels are an acceptable – and feasible – substitute.
In spite of Taiwan’s push for solar power in schools, rooftop installations are not the only option. The Ministry of Education is turning its eyes toward the canopies of covered courts that are exposed to direct sunlight as potential installation sites. For schools that lack such courts or indoor sports facilities, the Ministry is making a push to build solar-panel equipped courts on these school grounds.
There are 3,465 primary and secondary schools in Taiwan, about one-third of which (1,261) lack indoor sports facilities. With the support of architects and solar technology experts, the Ministry’s recommendation presents itself as a possibility. One example of this is Fong Siang Junior High School in Kaohsiung, which began housing Taiwan’s first solar-capable covered court in June 2018. The school has a total solar capacity of 968.78 KW, thanks to the 279.66 KW from its rooftop panels and 689.12 KW from the canopy-mounted panels on its covered court.
To achieve its energy capacity, Fong Siang had a very specific agreement with its contractor: the vendor would construct a solar panel-equipped covered court on campus at no cost to the school, in addition to giving the school a 1% cut from the sales of electricity generated from these solar panels and performing maintenance and repairs. Many other schools soon entered into similar agreements with solar panel vendors.
On the other hand, covered courts fall under the category of ground-mounted panel installations in feed-in tariff calculations, meaning they command a lower rate than their rooftop-mounted panel counterparts. In addition, canopy-mounted panels need six to seven meters of clearance off the ground, further raising their production cost, which is estimated at $15,000 to $20,000. Still other considerations include the installation of safety nets and drainage systems. In their quest for the widespread adoption of solar panel-equipped covered courts, schools need to keep these factors in mind when calculating their fees.