We are not entirely happy with referring to what we do as “free solar panels for schools”. Whilst it is true that normally the school will incur no costs, either upfront or otherwise for installation of solar panels on the school roof, does this really mean the solar panels are free?
At the end of the agreement period, the panel’s ownership will revert to the school. At that point I think it is fair to say that they are free, but until then, the people who invested in buying, installing and maintaining them own the panels. So more accurate descriptions would be:
Unfortunately none of the above descriptions are widely used by either companies offering funded solar panels or people looking for them, so we are rather stuck with ‘Free solar panels’.
No, but some argue that councils or schools should borrow money and own the solar panels directly, as they cut out investors who are expecting to make a return on their money. In theory, owning the panels themselves should provide a greater overall saving to the school, but in practice this is only true if the following apply:
This is not usually the case in council run schools, FOE is campaigning to change this and we fully support them, but given government deficit, I would not hold your breath. I don’t think the environment can hold its breath much longer either.
This is probably true in the case of government-backed schools, but less likely in private or academy backed schools.
Funded solar providers typically buy in bulk and as they install on many schools each year, benefit from economies of scale and thus should be able to do so at a lower cost than a school. Finally as their returns depend on the system working well for 20+ years, they will choose equipment carefully based on experience rather than just price. Not easy for a school to beat this.
Solar panels have no moving parts and are very reliable, delivering years of silent energy generation, but equally when they fail it is not at all obvious unless they are being monitored. Most schools do not have the time or skills to monitor, maintain and deal with repairs as needed.
Of course the school or council could hire a solar consultant to help them with the entire process from roof surveys and electrical connection to potential saving calculations. Then get quotes for installation and maintenance, arrange additional insurance and loans and oversee it all. The consultant’s costs will easily be greater than the first few years net surplus after financing and maintenance costs. In fact the consultants costs may never be recovered from the solar panels if the system is small or does not go ahead at all.
Our view is that every school in the world should have solar panels installed, regardless of if funded by governments or third party investors, and the sooner the better. Whilst we offer a fully funded option (free solar), we are also happy to work with schools that wish to fund it themselves. I.e. we can provide design/construction and maintenance services.
Yes, all funded solar programs require the building owner and school to enter into a long-term agreement in order to provide the investor with the confidence to invest. These agreements vary between suppliers of 'free' solar panels, but typically consist of either a roof lease agreement and separate Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) or single agreement covering the (PPA) and license to use the roof. Regardless of the type of agreements used, they require the following conditions:
Depending on the limitations and guarantees attached to the above conditions, some schools may not be able to enter into the agreements. Typically the lower the price of electricity offered in the PPA, the stricter and less flexible the conditions become as investor returns will be lower and thus the investment needs to be made safer for them.
Ultimately a school and its landlord will need to choose between level of expected savings and contract flexibility.
SolarforSchools uses a combined PPA and license agreement (Solar agreement). Unlike a lease agreement it does not require an entry in the Land Registry and thus is easier to implement and more flexible. We pride ourselves in having the most school friendly agreement in the market, focused on minimizing risk and distractions to the school whilst providing reasonable overall savings from larger systems, rather than simply offering the lowest cost PPAs on small solar PV systems.
Assuming the school does not have lots of spare cash it can’t invest in children’s education, there are a few other options a school can use to fund the panels. They are:
If your school’s roof is relatively small, parents and the local community are very engaged, then working with a charity such as 1010, who run solarschools.org.uk and help schools runs solar fundraising campaigns may be an option for your school. Probably the most satisfying option as the school keeps the solar subsidy and the savings, but it is a lot of work.
A number of installers and equipment vendors offer leasing options. Assuming your school is allowed to lease equipment this may be worth considering as the school normally gets to keep the Feed in Tariff (FIT) subsidy that is paid for every unit of electricity generated and then simply pays a monthly lease rate. The school needs to consider who will be responsible for equipment maintenance and what happens if the system is not generating enough savings to cover the monthly lease costs. (Winter months and during repairs).
We have put together a downloadable cheat sheet table comparing the different funding options for solar panels on schools here.