RENEWABLES FOR SCHOOLS
Can Sadiq Save
As some of you may already know, our mission at Renewables for Schools is to help all schools achieve zero carbon status and be powered by 100% renewable energy by the year 2030, all the while ensuring that sustainable learning becomes an integral part of their education system.
Being London based, we have also made it one of our core aims to help make London schools the most sustainable and energy efficient in the whole world. To this end, it made perfect sense for us to vigorously promote solar PV in schools, especially as the uptake in London remains the lowest in the entire UK. This was precisely the reason why we had called upon the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to try and change the status quo:
Full credit must be given to Friends of the Earth and former London Assembly member Jenny Jones and her team, who were relentless in pursuing this matter and did not give an inch. Thanks to their tireless and exceptional campaigning, Boris went on record to say that he was indeed allocating some of London's 2015-16 budget to help deploy solar PV systems on London school roofs under the new phase of RE:FIT.
Great news, we thought. Except it wasn't. By the time Mr Johnson had left City Hall; not a single school had any solar panels installed under the new phase of his RE:FIT programme, nor were any schools waiting in the pipeline to do so. To add insult to injury, DECC decided to considerably lower the solar PV tariff rates to a level which made it simply infeasible for them to buy into solar, leaving London schools in an even worse position than before.
Let's call a spade a spade. It is abundantly clear that certain people have completely backtracked on their promises, and in doing so have ignored the wishes of schoolchildren in London and have let them down. These are, after all, the same children who have been telling us that they want to see solar in their schools, they want to see more energy efficiency measures being taken in their schools, and they want to have a say with regards to what kind of world they are growing up in. Worse still, the children are expressing their dismay at the Government and a Mayor which they believe that have forgotten about their plight and who simply do not care about their future.
This didn't sit very well with us. Nor did it set very well for all those who were really pushing for a solar revolution in London. Many of the people we talked to were equally as dismayed as the children and felt it was unfair that promises were being disregarded.
However, every cloud has a silver lining, and this silver lining comes in the form of none other than London's new Mayor, Mr Sadiq Khan.
A man who promises to be London's greenest Mayor ever, Mr Khan has gotten off to a flying start by vowing to ignite a "clean energy revolution" throughout the capital. He has gone on record to say that he will not be satisfied until London is one of the world's greenest cities - one which other cities around the world look to for leadership on green energy, sustainability and tackling climate change.
Cleaning up London's air is a top priority for him. His plans to bring forward the Ultra-Low Emission Zone, introduce Clean Bus Corridors and more electric and hydrogen buses demonstrates that he is not just intending to become a Mayor for everybody, but a Mayor for the planet too.
You can read more about Sadiq's vision for a greener London right here:
Renewables for Schools welcomes Mr Khan's bold plans to turn London into a beacon of international sustainability, but as we have seen with his predecessor, saying is one thing; doing is another.
So how can Mr Khan avoid making the same mistakes of his predecessor and actually be a man of his word who will look out for the best interests of all of London's citizens and its environment?
As the saying goes, the true test of a good society is how you look after the most vulnerable. So perhaps it might be best to start by looking out for the interests of London's most vulnerable; namely its 1.9 million children.
One of his first promises has been to introduce Cleaner Walking Routes to School in order to reduce congestion around schools thereby protecting children from pollution. Children are much more susceptible to the effects of air pollution and are more vulnerable to the adverse effects it has on their health, so certainly Mr Khan is off to a great start there.
He has also promised to embark on a major tree-planting programme across London, with a particular focus on schools and colleges. Tree planting is one of the most practical ways to sequester carbon emissions and combat climate change, so we can't say that we have any complaints there either.
But what else can Mr Khan do to support sustainability initiatives in London's schools? Initiatives that will live up to their hype and deliver the kind of results that children in London deserve?
We've said it before and we'll say it again: solar always stacks up as the number one choice for any school. Schools typically have large roof spaces which enable them to generate clean energy in an affordable and socially responsible way. In the case of solar PV, the greatest amount of electricity is generated during the day, which coincides with the greatest amount of energy usage by schools.
They can reduce schools' electricity bills, provide a form of revenue generation, significantly reduce their CO2 emissions, and engage the pupils through a working example of renewable technology. It gets the children really thinking about where their energy comes from, and encourages them to appreciate the reasons why it needs to come from clean and sustainable sources.
Indeed, solar PV is the bedrock on which every school should build their sustainability campaign upon. So Mr Khan may well be able to make his biggest contribution to London's schools by prioritising the deployment of solar PV across the capital.
As for how he can achieve this, well one possible idea is for Mr Khan to incorporate schools along with TfL estate into his proposed Solar Map of London, thereby allowing him to cherry-pick some of the best spaces on London school rooftops, and then use the energy generated to sell back to local businesses and communities through the auspices of his Energy for Londoners not-for-profit company.
We've highlighted the kind of returns that Mr Khan could expect to receive should he make a concerted effort to incorporate every school in London into his solar energy strategy:
Alternatively, Mr Khan could set up a new type of fund which would enable schools to borrow money for their solar panels without having to deal with the current International Financial Standards restrictions or worry about the recent reductions in the Feed-in Tariff. This would effectively pass the responsibility of installing and maintaining solar PV straight over to the schools, and enable him to free up valuable resources for installing and maintaining solar PV systems elsewhere in London. He could even take this one step further and make it mandatory for every school with a large and usable roof space capacity to install solar panels, thereby guaranteeing clean and green power to the pupils for many years to come.
There are plenty of options available, and to those who say that installing solar PV on schools in London are a logistical nightmare, we kindly suggest that you go out and actually research the matter before making such claims. London's schools have excellent access, and due to the typical open area surrounding most schools, they are in almost all cases no different to installing solar PV in a school in any other part of the country. For the same reason, the shading factor is not nearly as much of an issue as it is made out to be. Such arguments are very reminiscent of the conclusions reached by climate change denialists, in the sense that they simply don't stack up in the real world, and are usually touted by those with a hidden agenda.
Which brings us onto our next point: why is it that every time one of the fossil fuel giants visit a school to provide their advice on what a school needs in order to go "green" they always seem to begin by recommending the school overspends thousands of pounds on one of their latest "environmentally friendly" yet expensive fossil fuel boilers? The mind truly boggles...
Nevertheless, Mr Khan can perhaps shine some light on the matter by encouraging London schools to forego Big Six-friendly recommendations and choose to implement solar thermal, heat pump and bioenergy systems instead. These systems provide schools with a much higher benefit cost ratio (BCR), so they will save more money, and most importantly, by not pumping out all the dirty direct and smokestack emissions; schools will be cleaning up the air around them and will be doing much, much more for the environment.
Next up we have energy efficiency. One of the first things that every school in London can and should be doing in this regard is to implement an energy efficiency and staff awareness programme which addresses the use of water, heat and electricity throughout the entire school. And by this we mean more than simply slapping on a few token Switch It Off stickers sporadically throughout each classroom. We are talking about a responsible approach towards the use of resources which involves the pupils just as much as it informs them, with regular monitoring of performance to ensure long term effective delivery. In most cases this will cost the school nothing, but will save them many thousands of pounds and tonnes of CO2 each and every year.
By prioritising energy efficiency measures in London schools, Mr Khan can tap into one of the most important tools for avoiding climate change. By taking things one step further, and setting out an action plan which will roll out Smart Metering, Voltage Optimisation and Intelligent Heating Controls throughout all of London's schools, Mr Khan can "future proof" school buildings and get the very best out of advancing technology.
On the same note, by making a concerted effort to switch all schools over to LEDs and other forms of energy efficient lighting, London schools can save between 80-90% on their lighting bills (which itself accounts for 50% of any school's electricity bills). No small change, by any stretch of the imagination!
Applying complete thermal resistivity measures in all schools could also become a top priority for Sadiq. Everything from draft-proofing, insulating pipes, installing roof/wall/floor insulation and double glazing could see even more pounds being saved and CO2 being mitigated.
Which parts Mr Khan decides to adopt and when is a matter for his own good judgment. But we just hope he won't be leaving it up to each individual borough to get their house in order.
You see, on the one hand we have some London boroughs, such as Merton and Richmond upon Thames, which are exceptionally ahead of the game when it comes to sustainability, but on the other hand we have other boroughs (which shall remain nameless) with some of the most appalling environmental records in the entire country.
We can see that continuing to adopt a borough by borough approach to sustaining London schools has clearly not been working and if Mr Khan believes in the notion that leaving it up to the local authorities is the answer, then we would respectfully reference to the old saying: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.
We can also clearly see that many the various forums and non-profits have not delivered upon the results which they had promised to achieve. Whilst we do not wish to take anything away from the great work a lot of these organisations have been doing, let's tell it like it is: millions of pounds of funding has been released, but we seem to hear more about their efforts to generate favourable PR than we hear of many of them actually bringing about the social and environmental changes London needs (sorry people, but we're never going to shy away from the truth: even if it hurts).
Clearly programmes such as RE:FIT London have also not been delivering the results they have been promising, especially in light of the fact that not a single school in London has installed solar panels under the auspices of this programme, nor has there been a considerable amount of uptake by London schools under RE:FIT or RE:NEW in other areas either.
And considering the fact that RE:FIT London is jointly funded by the Mayor and the European Union Regional Development Fund, one has to ask the question: in light of recent events, exactly how sustainable is the future of such programmes?
This now begs another question: if the Mayor of London is not the primary driver of sustainability initiatives for every borough in London, can we realistically expect any difference in the results which we have been already been seeing (which have been mediocre at best)?
Brexit or not, climate change is very real and our children should be our number one priority right now. That is the right thing to do and if London cannot lead by example then it is hard to imagine where else in the country would have the capacity and the resources to take the lead.
The last Mayor lacked the competence and the follow-through to deliver on his promises. A real opportunity to stand up and take his place in history as the man who made truly sustainable schools in London a reality was presented to Boris Johnson, and we are very sad to say that he did not rise to the challenge, but instead choose to leave behind an entirely different kind of legacy.
However, that opportunity has now been passed on to Mr Khan today, and the new Mayor is now in position to take up the mantle of leadership in environmental issues in London schools and win the hearts and minds of its pupils.
We live in different times now, and there can no longer be any doubt that climate change is the single greatest greatest threat to London's security, its economy, its environment and even the well-being of its citizens. Some of the greatest minds in the world all agree that the social and environmental problems caused by climate change are growing worse by the day.
That is why taking action on climate change will not just define Sadiq Khan's legacy as Mayor of London, but it will also define the legacy left for all future generations.
The only question remains, is listening to the voice of London's children and taking real action on climate change the kind of legacy this Mayor truly wishes to leave behind?
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