A guide to adopting solar power at your educational institution.
Written by Georgin Paulose | Jan 31, 2019
Digging deeper, it becomes apparent they are both essential for the future of the world and add value to society.
Solar is one of the easy ways to cut down electricity costs at institutions. In India, we receive around 300 days of sunshine a year. Compared to the rest of the world, we are in the driver’s seat to utilise a large portion of the sun’s energy.
Residential buildings like houses and apartments with slanted roofing offer a lesser surface area and flexibility on their rooftop. In contrast, most educational institutions have flat roofs that generally go un-utilised.
Placing solar panels on this vacant terrace area can turn your rooftop into a value-adding asset by (i) producing clean energy, (ii) absorbing heat to lower indoor room temperature, (iii) positively impacting our environment.
Imagine if your institution didn’t have to pay for any of the power consumed! Wouldn’t this help reduce your monthly operational expenses? You can turn this idea into reality by powering your buildings with solar.
Reducing operational costs, environmental impact and space availability are just the beginning.
The NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) scores are pivotal for educational institutions to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.
The 7th criterion of NAAC focuses on innovation, best practices, and social responsibility. What can give your institution an edge over other in NAAC’s accreditation? Adopting solar power: it is considered a best practice for being environmentally responsible while cutting costs.
A recent report indicates that installing solar panels on large and open roof spaces provide the best return on the investment made. Therefore, going solar at educational institutions is one of the significant saving opportunities.
The Indian Green Business Council (IGBC) ratings bring together a set of sustainable practices and solutions to reduce negative environmental impacts.
Getting an IGBC certification will help classify your institution as a green campus. Green campuses tend to attract positive publicity which in turn makes the enrollment numbers better.
When your institution is on a break during summer, winter or festivals, the solar power system continues to produce power. Since your consumption will be negligible during this time, most of the electricity generated get exported to the grid.
Your utility provider (ex: BESCOM in Bangalore) pays you for excess units generated at the end of the month, during billing. Not just that. The institution becomes a source of energy, contributing to the neighbourhood even during a break.
Realising the potential of solar energy in India, the government and bodies like NCERT are encouraging educational institutions to teach about and adopt clean energy in their campus.
The application and design of solar power technology can be easily customised.
If the institution is looking to reduce electricity costs, a grid-connected system via net metering is a suitable choice. There are no batteries in this system and thus need lower maintenance.
With on-grid, it is possible to bring down your electricity bills very close to zero. It becomes relevant for institutes that spend heavily on electricity, that is, anything upwards of 10,000 rupees a month, going up to a few lakh rupees.
Note: Some on-grid solar inverters can sync and work together with diesel generators as well.
An off-grid system is ideal in locations with frequent power cuts. Essential appliances and fixtures will keep running even during a power outage by discharging the battery. An off-grid system, in essence, is a UPS powered by solar.
It is possible to design for over 12 hours of power back-up and if required going entirely off the grid (that is, zero dependence on the utility grid). Off-grid is best suited for smaller institutions (with less than 200 students) that are not continuously dependent on large appliances like air-conditioners.
Though higher in cost, a hybrid solar connection strikes a balance between the on-grid and off-grid systems. It connects to the grid and provides power supply during outages.
Hybrid is value for money in case of:
(i) New institutions that do not want to purchase a diesel generator for back-up.
(ii) Existing institutions that want to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.
Note: Lithium-ion batteries can provide power back up for heavier loads, which not possible from conventional lead-acid batteries.
Time Lapse: A School That Runs On Solar Power
To drive smart and responsible use of resources in institutes, the adoption of solar power is pivotal.
For new and existing institutions, retrofitting of the solar power system is done. The process involves understanding the goals of the institution, surveying the space available, analysing the power requirement, and laying out the impact of adopting solar power.
For upcoming institutes, the architects play a vital role in designing solar ready buildings. We closely work with architecture firms to provide our expertise in this matter.
In any case, the financial model becomes key to the expectations set from the institute as well as the solar installer. Going solar requires an investment of money, time and space. All of this needs to align with the institution’s short and long term goals.
Choosing the financial model and raising a purchase order is followed by the signing of a power purchase agreement (PPA), installation and commissioning of the solar power system. Liaising with the utility provider (in the case of on-grid and hybrid systems) and the investor (in the case of OPEX model) is key to signing an effective power purchase agreement (PPA).
In 2018, the institution installed a 40-kilowatt solar system. They chose the CAPEX model and an on-grid system.
Going solar has helped them cut 40,000 rupees in electricity costs every month – making their bills almost zero. With a break-even period on their investment of just 4.5 years, the school was able to complete this using 4000 square feet of roof space.
The real-time solar generation is monitored by the school using an in-built remote monitoring device.
Later in the year, the school decided to add another floor (to create an auditorium) with the panels to be relocated on top of the new roof. It is currently a work in progress, and the connections will be re-established without any hassle.
The school set up a 96-kilowatt system that generates 1,15,000 units of electricity every year. They did this with an on-grid system, using an OPEX model. The per-unit cost paid by the school is 3 rupees lesser than that from BESCOM (the utility provider).
The school saves 1,20,000 rupees every year – paying just 50% of what they originally paid to the utility. Also, the investor makes about 6 lakh rupees every year.
Have more questions about adopting solar in educational institutions? We are just a WhatsApp message away.
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Note: We have used our team’s combined experience in consulting with educational institutions, to put this together.
Choosing the right financial model is important here. CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) and OPEX (Operational Expenditure) are the two options institutions have.
Note: OPEX is a suitable option for institutes that need more than 100 kilowatts of solar power.
In CAPEX, the end-user buys the solar power system. The user will be able to save 100% on every unit of electricity consumed. Also, the entire ownership of the system is with the user.
In OPEX, the installer finances the system for the institution. The user pays the investor for their consumption based on a written agreement. The per unit rate in OPEX is generally 10-20% lower than regular utility charges. Also, the ownership is transferable to the user after a few years, based on the agreement in place.
The delay is usually because of one or a combination of the following reasons. Let’s address them.
(I) Impact of the solar installation is unclear.
Estimating the impact of investing in solar can be done with metrics like return on investment (ROI), internal rate of return (IRR), and break-even period. A good solar installer will help you understand these numbers with ease.
(II) Unable to visualise the solar installation.
By accurately measuring the rooftop and designing a 3-D simulation of the solar power system, using physical and digital tools, the best installers will give you a realistic visual representation.
(III) Roadblock for infrastructure expansion.
Solar panels are not permanent structures. When needed, they can be removed, moved, and put back. In case your institution is planning to build floors in the future, it is possible to do that without affecting the structural integrity of your roof.
Often, institutions shell out a lot more money for their power usage than they should be – because of how their electrical connection is set up. Many states have specific electricity tariff slabs for educational institutions. However, due to the lack of proper consult, a large number of institutions subscribe to commercial tariffs.
For instance, with BESCOM (utility provider for Bengaluru and a few other places in Karnataka), most educational institutions have 25% lower electricity bills in HT-2(c) as compared to commercial establishments in HT-2(b).
Making this change would be the first step to optimising your expenditure even before adopting solar power.
Such a situation can work against you in case you’re planning to go solar. Net metering policy dictates that the installation of solar cannot exceed your connection’s contract demand. If this is the case, 100% reduction of bills for your institution would be instantly ruled out.
To obtain the maximum benefits of using solar power, matching your contract demand and requirement is crucial. Most installers will do this for you before the set-up of the solar power system.
The only requirement from you would be to keep the panels clean, to ensure maximum efficiency. Cleaning of the solar panels is easy. It can be done using a wet cloth or sprinklers, without wasting much water.
For technical maintenance, installers provide the service at no cost for up to 3 years after installation. Post this initial period, 2-3% of the project cost is charged to renew the annual maintenance cost (AMC).
Under the AMC, apart from carrying out the regular maintenance of the system, the installer will hold the manufacturers accountable for their products’ warranties and guarantees.
(I) There are two simple ways to estimate the size of solar you need:
(i) If you know the number of units consumed per month, dividing that value by 100 will give you a system size to meet your entire requirement. For instance, if the consumption is 5000 units of electricity, 5000/100 = 50 kilowatt of solar power required.
(ii) In case you’re aware of the average monthly electricity bill, divide that number by 1000 to get a system size that will bring your bills down to zero. For example, if you pay Rs. 50,000 every month, 50000/1000 = 50 kilowatt of solar power required.
Note: 5,000 units of consumption in the HT-2(c) tariff, gives a final electricity bill of 50,000 rupees.
(II) Every kilowatt of solar power requires 100 square feet of shadow-free space. Say, 50 kilowatts of solar will need 5000 square feet of roof space.
(III) The cost of your solar power system is dependent on the size. As a thumb rule, larger systems have lower cost less per kilowatt of solar.
*cost is not inclusive of taxes, as of January 2019
To get a rough idea of your system’s cost, multiply your estimated system size with the appropriate per kilowatt (kW) cost.
Note: These costs and estimations are approximate. The actual numbers may vary by 10 to 20% depending on the real-time requirements.
There are reasons aplenty for educational institutions to adopt solar power in their campus. The most important of all is that schools and colleges are at the forefront of influencing the future of our world.
By going solar institutes can kick a domino effect of socially responsible behaviour in the community. Parents, teachers, and students will have to hold themselves to the citizenship standards set by a solar-powered institution.
As a result, more homes and businesses will start making the switch to solar power. At this tipping point, we can finally breathe easy.
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