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Achieving large-scale renewable energy impact in NSW schools

In schools across NSW, passion for sustainability initiatives has ignited the spirits of parents and children alike.

With over 2,200 public schools in NSW, School Infrastructure NSW (SINSW) identified an opportunity for cost and energy savings through the large-scale deployment of small-scale on-site solar and battery storage.

Public schools across the state have already installed more than 17 MW of solar energy systems, capable of generating enough energy to power 3,000 NSW homes. These systems have the potential to be fantastic learning opportunities for students. Real-time data monitoring portals will be used in classrooms to engage students with what’s happening on their school roof, putting their maths, electrical engineering and sustainability skills into practice.  

As energy systems transform and technology improves, there is even more of an opportunity for schools to become part of the energy transition. SINSW recognised this opportunity but needed to determine the best way to generate cost-effective renewable energy at each site.

The Sustainable Government program, in the Office of Energy and Climate Change, supports NSW Government departments to achieve their net zero emissions goals. With access to a panel of solar and battery experts, the Sustainable Government team undertook a desktop assessment of the optimal solar and battery energy system sizes across 2,000 schools across NSW.

Teacher and student using technology to look at solar panels
Solar energy systems like this one at Kingswood Public School can be fantastic learning opportunities for students.

The assessments included determining the ideal solar energy and battery storage system size for each school to allow for maximum energy savings, return on investment and environmental benefit for the NSW Department of Education. The potential savings identified are substantial and the Office of Energy and Climate Change have recognised that applying similar thinking to all government assets and roof space could make a significant contribution to the state meeting its overall targets.  

SINSW has included the portfolio-wide assessments in an Expression of Interest (EOI) process, which is seeking proposals from the private sector to finance, install and operate renewable energy technology across all NSW public schools.

Aerial view of solar panels on school
Schools across NSW were assessed for their suitability for solar and battery systems

‘The opportunity to take a portfolio view, aggregating many small-scale systems to achieve large-scale impact demonstrates the leadership and ambition of the NSW Department of Education. Working collaboratively with the Sustainable Government program and SINSW has been one of the many reasons why the desktop assessment has been so successful. It’s a great demonstration of how government agencies can lead the way in the transition to net zero emissions,’ says Prema Govender, Manager, Sustainable Government.

This process is the largest ‘behind-the-meter’ procurement exercise of its type in Australia. The results of the EOI will also provide insight into how solar and battery energy storage systems could be best delivered across other government assets.

Photos: School Infrastructure NSW