This morning the pupils of Hinchley Wood School had more than SATs to get out of bed for. Congratulating the ‘Green Flag’ school on its environmental initiative; impressionist, environmentalist and solar power advocate Alistair McGowan travelled to Surrey to open the brand new solar installation, which is one of the largest in the UK.

As part of the launch, McGowan also announced that he has joined the ‘We Support Solar’ campaign in calling on the UK Government to commit to solar power as part of the country’s renewable energy future. During his enthusiastic and highly amusing speech at the school, McGowan reiterated many of our thoughts on Government’s recent proposal to cut the feed-in tariff levels for solar installations over 50kW in size.

By joining the We Support Solar group at Hinchley Wood School McGowan was able to see first hand what kind of project could miss out if the tariffs are cut.

 “If we all embraced exciting solar PV technology, as you have done, we could create a world in which old, wasteful, dirty sources of energy creation are almost totally redundant.  But this country isn’t yet embracing solar power because of changes in the system which means that so-called ‘large-scale’ projects, such as yours, are not being encouraged,” McGowan explained.

“Schools and hospitals are great places for solar: they can reduce bills, freeing up funds for local authorities to use elsewhere, and even raise an income for themselves – while benefitting the health and future of the world. To make a real difference in the fight against climate change, the 29,000 school buildings across the country should be given another job to do – like yours,” he continued.

Steve Poole Headteacher at Hinchley Wood School said, “Hinchley Wood aims to be a sustainable school and renewable energy, using solar panels, is one of the reasons why we achieved Green Flag status. It is the responsible thing to do, saves us considerable money and sets an example for the whole school community. School buildings are an ideal location for solar panels and we think every school should consider this option; particularly as it is no longer necessary to finance it yourself with organisations like Solarcentury and Triodos Bank working together. What else was our sports hall roof going to be used for? Hinchley Wood supports solar, and believes schools should have solar power just like ours – using as much roof space as is practicable.”

“I'm backing ‘We Support Solar’ because we need solar power in this country.  I generate my electricity with solar so I know its fantastic stuff. If we had solar on all of our south facing roofs we could meet a third of our electricity needs. No wonder it's the fastest growing electricity generating technology in the world. But the UK Government threatens to turn it into an endangered species because it refuses to think big on solar for our buildings and communities, we should use large roof spaces for solar before we live to regret restricting solar power to small roofs. Solar's no joke, its time for the Government to think big, raise its solar ambition and keep a strong feed-in tariff,” concluded McGowan.

Hinchley Wood School has achieved a 20% reduction in energy use over two years and has just installed its second solar power system. The new 67kWp solar power system will generate 58,000kWh of electricity a year; saving the school £4,500 in electricity bills on an annual basis. In doing so, the school will also save 29 tonnes of C02 emissions each year. 

The installation was made possible through the new partnership between Solarcentury’s ‘Solar4Schools’ programme and Triodos Bank. The ethical bank owns the solar photovoltaics, with the school paying a fraction of the cost of the system – £2,500 as opposed to £186,000 – to benefit from free electricity during the day.

We Support Solar’ is a network of companies, NGOs and individuals who want solar power to be an important part of the renewable energy mix in the UK.

My interview with McGowan will follow shortly.

Alistair McGowan will be presenting at the upcoming Solar Power UK 2011 event, held from 26-28 October at the Birmingham International Convention Centre.

Adding to the high-profile line up of the extensive three-day programme with his presentation ‘Why solar in the community is so important’, Alistair will also entertain guests with his comedy at the official gala evening, Solar Soirée.

For more information on the UK’s number one event for the solar industry, visit the Solar Power UK 2011 website.

Photos by Emma Hughes