The 430kW system is expected to save Wellacre Academy more than £2 million over 25 years thanks to a PPA with Eden Sustainable. Image: Eden Group.

One of the UK's largest solar installations to be completed at a school is saving Wellacre Academy in Flixton, Greater Manchestrer thousands off its electricity bills thanks to a power purchase agreement (PPA) with Eden Sustainable.

The 430kW system was completed in April and is projected to save the school around £2.1 million over the lifetime of the installation. The school typically uses 414MWh throughout the year, which is expected to be met almost entirely by the installation.

As part of the PPA with Eden, the school receives first call on any electricity generated at the site, allowing it to make the significant financial savings that motivated the project.

Principal Melanie Wicks found that using the existing electricity supplier the school would spend £3,087,390 on electric bills over 25 years, but the cut-price electricity deal with Eden would instead incur costs of just £919,083 for the same period.

According to Christine Ellis, business and finance director for Wellacre Academy, the school is expecting to make savings of up to £25,000 in the first year. This is forecast to rise throughout the lifetime of the scheme as electricity prices increase, particularly in the final five years.

She said: “We are hoping to halve our energy bills with electricity fixed at 6p with increases in line with the retail price index. One thing everyone knows is the price of electric will carry on going up, so fixing the price now is great for Wellacre moving forward.

“I know saving £2,168,307 on electricity bills in 25 years almost sounds too good to be true, but we've seen the maths and know we will be saving tens of thousands each year.”

Speaking to SPP earlier today, Ellis added that the school would have been unable to experience the benefits of the system were it not for the PPA structure of the deal, which meant there were no upfront installation costs.

Due to its academy status, Wellacre had to apply directly to the secretary of state for education to get approval for the scheme, as it effectively grants tenancy of the public building’s roof to a private company. However, full approval was gained from the education and funding authority as according to Ellis: “This is the sort of thing they want to promote and for schools to be looking into.”

The deal was brought about by Green Energy International after pairing the school with Eden, which acted as the investor. According to director Arthur Bell, PPAs can offer similar benefits to other schools and businesses.

“These free fit solar arrays are fantastic for educational establishments, but also brilliant for ordinary businesses. It's a win, win situation and you don't get many of those in life,” he said.

“It's a no brainer for schools – we can ensure they fix their electricity bill and the free fit systems can save them a fortune over the lifetime of the deal. We are doing similar deals for scores and scores of businesses and medium sized firms and even household names can see a return on their bottom line by fitting panels.”

The money saved from the electricity bills will be funnelled into other school activities while the installation itself will be used to educate the pupils on solar energy.

Ellis said: “We're having a display screen so when the boys are walking past in the corridor they will be able to see how much electricity the system is generating. We're going to make it as understandable as possible.

“Scott Burrows [from Eden Sustainable] is going to be attending assemblies to talk about the project because they've all seen it installed so they're asking questions about how it works and what it's going. It's generated a lot of interest.”  

Principle Wicks added: “We will use the panels for education and they will form part of projects around the school. Renewable energy is an important part of modern life. How our carbon footprint is being reduced and pollution around the world is a major issue and is something our students frequently debate.

“The entire school has energy saving systems throughout, but the solar panels will allow us to do some fascinating projects, using real data for science, geography, technology and maths from the electricity generated on site.”

The successful completion of a new solar installation at a school contrasts with a rapidly developing situation in the education sector following reductions in available subsidies. The cuts to the feed-in tariff earlier this year has led to the closure of 10:10’s Solar Schools programme, which helped institutions raise funds for new installations.

The climate change charity has also echoed warning from the Solar Trade Association regarding upcoming rises in business tax rates on solar installations. It has claimed that state schools will see bills increase by more than £800 when the new rates are introduced in April 2017. However, academies like Wellacre will be exempt from these rates due to their charitable status, suggesting these schools are still able to benefit from solar energy.

Alice Bell of 10:10 said: “Although solar on schools has been hit hard by the cuts, we don't expect it to disappear. It's really brilliant to see schools like Wellacre Academy managing to finance and fit their solar scheme. I'm sure there will be more stories like theirs in the future too.”