Following from the Solar Strategy's promise to install 1GW of solar on government buildings, Solar Power Portal spoke to Jason Hunter from Capitas Finance to find out how schools can earn more money for education, and pay less on energy bills. 

In line with the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC)’s ‘Power to the Pupils’ push for free solar energy in UK schools, Capitas is offering solar leasing plans for schools.

Hunter explained how schools could use unused roof space to not only save on the second highest cost after salaries, energy bills, but also how schools can make more money to go on books and activities from feed-in tarrif (FiT) payments and selling unused energy generated in the holidays, back to the national grid – on top of the energy bill savings from generating free solar electricity.

The finance options being made available to UK schools means that schools do not have to take on debt for solar panels, which in turn, saves the costs being added to the national deficit. Schools are not burdened with high interest payments or up front costs, but can flexibly rent PV installations, only paying back out of the money saved on energy bills and the FiT payments gained from having the system installed – making solar affordable and accessible for UK schools.

According to DECC, a small 25kW solar PV system could generate £3,435 a year, just from the current FiT rate.

A sample funding proposal for a 96kW installation for a secondary school provided by Capitas Finance, reveals an estimated electricity saving of £7,825 – just for the first year of the installation.

“Being able to communicate to the pupils the benefits of sustainability through a working example of renewable technology in their own school will provide more direct engagement,” said DECC.

Schools need to gain three quotes from certified installers and consider funding options to gain access to the ‘Power to the Pupils’ programme. All finance must meet local authority, or the Education Funding Agency rules. Therefore, borrowing to meet the up front costs of some installations is difficult for schools.

The importance and benefit of solar for schools was highlighted at the beginning of this month by Friends of the Earth (FoE). FoE started a petition for the financial red tape on schools that currently restricts them from borrowing for solar installations, to be removed.

Andy Atkins, executive director, Friends of the Earth told Solar Power Portal: “Putting solar on the government estate is a good move, but we need to go further, allowing every community to benefit. As a first step Ministers must relax rules preventing schools borrowing money to install solar, potentially unlocking tens of millions of pounds in savings for schools nationwide.”

Amy Cameron, Solar Schools manager, 10:10 said previously: “Around the UK parents, teachers and pupils are coming together to cut their carbon emissions, reduce electricity bills and unite communities though solar.”

Capitas Finance is not the only company to pick up on the win-win finance model for schools: alternative energy firm Winch Energy's ‘Power Your Future’ programme secured funds for a 3MW of PV installations under its schools solar initiative, ‘Power Your Schools’, last month. The programme is set to continue throughout 2014, with funds from the subsidiary of global clean energy company CBD Energy Limited, Secured Energy Bonds (SEB), who provide finance.

Although not part of the government inititative, the financial system provided by Winch Energy is similar to Capitas Finance's, and means schools receive solar energy at no cost, the installations, insurance and maintenance of the array is taken care of by investors, so schools receive energy at a discounted rate.

Already 2.57MW has been installed across 100 UK schools as part of the programme, which also helps educate students about renewable energy.