To kick-start its move into becoming a major solar energy installer in the UK, the country's leading energy supplier, British Gas has started a £15 million project to supply 1,100 primary and secondary schools in total with free solar systems worth between £20,000 and £40,000 pounds per school over the next five years.

British Gas estimates that the scheme will generate approximately £1.3 million in revenues per annum under the UK feed-in tariff, which will be reinvested by the British Gas Energy For Tomorrow Trust, a 'not for profit' trust fund established by British Gas to invest in low carbon projects in the UK fund further free installations at schools across the country.

“This is the biggest investment of its kind in solar technology for our nation's schools, which will help them cut both their carbon emissions and their electricity bills – as well as learn about renewable energy in a hands-on way,” commented Phil Bentley, Managing Director, British Gas.

So far, British Gas has earmarked half of the total investment at schools in low income areas in conjunction with the Government's Community Energy Saving Programme (CESP), but all schools in the UK can register for an application form at British Gas. A competition is expected to be announced that schools can participate in to potentially win a free solar installation at their given school.

The schools lucky enough to have a solar system installed will receive a British Gas smart meter, offering real time information so pupils can learn about the technology and will be able to track their performance against others and share tips and advice via a specially designed website, which will be launched as the project unfolds this summer.

British Gas is using its own subsidiary of trained staff to undertake all the installations. The company told PV-Tech that it is also in the final supplier selection phase for the program and a decision will be made soon. It would not say whether the company was evaluating a range of solar technologies such as thin film for these planned projects.

Based on the retail worth of each of the solar system installations, British Gas could be installing between 4MW and 7MW in total over the first five year phase.

Of course it should be noted that schools with the sufficient funds to install similar sized projects could see a revenue return from the feed-in tariff of between £40,000 and £85,000 over the 25-year tariff period. This amount also includes the energy saved by not having to purchase a certain amount of electricity from their supplier. The cost of the solar system would however have to be recouped from the revenue generated.

British Gas said that in total the selected school solar installations would reduce emissions by up to 1,400 tonnes per year.