What does it mean?
In 2021, there were 822 public schools in Western Australia. According to the Clean Energy Council, each of the classrooms in all of those schools uses about 3800 kWh of electricity per year – which is equal to the energy use of an entire house over six months. Of course, this energy use doesn’t just cost the environment. It costs the school between $70,000-$300,000 per year, and for schools in hot regional areas it can exceed $1 million.
Net-zero energy buildings use renewable energy systems, which produce exactly the right amount of energy the building needs every year. A net-zero energy building is a clean building – and clean school buildings are a key part of supporting WA’s transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
What are the challenges for WA?
There is cost involved in upgrading existing school buildings, and sometimes that cost is an investment. Solar panels and other renewable energy systems take a short amount of time to bring the cash back through lower energy expenditure benefits. However, they do make a significant difference in annual school energy bills – Infinite Energy has demonstrated that a 100kw solar system will on average provide enough power for a school with 1000 students and save between $15,000-$30,000 every year on power bills every year.
Why is it important to take action now?
Powering our school buildings with clean energy instead of fossil fuels can save drastic amounts of both cash and carbon emissions for Western Australia. Luckily, we’re well-equipped with plenty of sunshine, wind and water to make that happen. What’s more, net-zero schools provide additional community benefits by publicly showcasing clean energy, electrification and decarbonisation as economically beneficial.
What action is being taken?
The WA Government’s Schools Clean Energy Technology Fund plans to allocate funds to support solar panels and virtual power plants in public schools. $45 million to deliver more rooftop solar systems and virtual power plants. Eligible schools can now apply for the first round of solar panel installations. Launched at Churchlands PS. 30 regional public schools. Look into the Sustainable Schools Alliance for resources.
Synergy’s Virtual Power Plants are another way schools are working toward net-zero. See this short video to understand how they work:
Synergy is running a VPP Schools Pilot program to kick-start renewable energy uptake in WA communities. As the program page notes, ‘’Synergy and the State Government have developed the VPP pilot project that will see Synergy install commercial batteries and VPP technology at up to 17 participating schools across the South West Interconnected System (SWIS).” Schools are an excellent place to generate and store surplus solar energy because they don’t need power when most residential areas do – evenings and weekends!
Climate-Clever is a program designed and trialled in Perth that helps schools engage their communities to calculate and regulate their school’s carbon footprint across energy, water and waste. Neerigen Brook Primary School was a pilot school for the Climate-Clever program, identifying the environmental impacts of school infrastructure and ways to reduce the carbon footprint of schools. Climate-Clever is an inspirational program providing tools to support schools to transition to net-zero energy buildings whilst also providing benefits including cost savings, and educational and environmental awareness initiatives to the school and wider community.
The Education and Health Standing Committee is conducting an inquiry into the response of Western Australian schools to climate change. The inquiry will consider the co-benefits of climate action in schools, climate change mitigation and adaptation actions currently being undertaken in schools, the benefits they are achieving, the barriers to success, and what more can be done to support schools to respond to climate change.
What can schools do?
You can apply for a Clean Schools grant, apply to Synergy’s VPP Pilot Program, join ClimateClever and submit a response to the Education and Health Standing Committee’s Inquiry. Aside from those actions, if you’re in a decision-making position, transitioning to net-zero energy buildings can begin with a few simple considerations. First, you’ll need to determine the carbon impact of the facilities and identify avenues for energy reduction. Then, establish a net-zero emissions roadmap with clear and achievable goals, including ensuring buildings are highly energy efficient, temperature regulated and can utilize onsite renewable energy systems.
If you’re a student, you can organise with other students at your school and write a letter to your school asking them to commit to net-zero as soon as possible. Teachers can do that, too!