Bundaberg Christian College
Bundaberg Christian College
Solar high school: Solar PV and battery revive college finances and curriculum
In 2016, we designed and installed a groundbreaking solar electricity system with solar battery backup – the largest such hybrid system at an Australian school – for Bundaberg Christian College (BCC).
Founded in 1996, BCC is an independent day school catering to over 600 students on one purpose-built campus. The college includes an early learning centre, a junior school, middle, and senior school. BCC’s modern facilities and outstanding teachers allow the school to offer a wide range of subjects to their students, including OP, QCE and VET pathways to higher education. Set on rural land between Bundaberg and the coastal towns of Bargara, Innes Park, and Coral Cove, Bundaberg Christian College prides itself of its strong environmental values, having been entirely self-sufficient on water for some years. The college is keen to go entirely off-grid by shifting their entire power generation to solar in the future.
During the summer months, electricity consumption at Bundaberg Christian College and many other schools in regional Queensland can skyrocket by up to 300% purely based on air-conditioning loads.
Combined with soaring energy prices and massive peak demand charges, the financial viability of the school was threatened, prompting the organisation to explore opportunities to become less dependent on the electricity grid. Solar PV was the obvious answer, and the college’s management was open to investigating into solar battery storage and other energy efficiency measures such as LED lighting, enabling them to get the most out of their solar system.
The other part of the business problem equation is the Bundaberg Christian College’s strong environmental values. The school has already been fully independent on water for several years and the management team is always looking for ways to improve the school’s sustainability track record.
The consultation process for BCC’s highly customised hybrid solar system with battery backup began with a full assessment of the schools energy consumption profile and electricity bills. We also inspected the site, conducted energy audits, and consulted closely with the college’s managerial team to keep checking in on expectations and considerations such as budget and timeframes.
Our first move achieved an immediate halving of electricity consumption. Our in-house LED lighting designer replaced 1,500 fluoro lights with LEDs; on top of that, we implemented a range of other energy efficiency measures such as timer switches. This reduction in energy consumption also meant a direct cost reduction for the project because less solar needed to be installed.
Then our electric engineers began designing the school’s state-of-the-art hybrid solar system.
Solar PV is the perfect match for the electricity needs of schools, as they operate during the day and have large buildings on which to place the solar panels to generate the most energy. We installed the panels to be facing east, north-east, north, north-west, and west, and thereby created a wider solar production curve, which means that the solar system generates power earlier in the morning and later in the afternoon than a straight north-facing system.
The design process came with its challenges, including painstaking compliance with local network requirements, which meant that GEM’s engineering team had to custom-engineer a site master controller for smooth charging and discharging.
Solar PV system size: 193.98kWp
252kWh usable energy storage (lead-acid solar batteries, housed in an insulated shipping container)
Major system components:
732 x Hanwha Q CELLS Q.PRO G4.1 265w solar panels
3 X ABB TRIO 27.6 kW inverters
5 X ABB TRIO 20.0 kW inverters
3 X Selectronic SPLC 1202 inverters
Replacement of 1,500 fluoro lights with LED lighting
System type: Zero Export, 3-phase
AUD$700,000 project, financed partially through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC)
Savings of AUD$100,000 per year on electricity
Reduced power usage by up to 80%
Cash-flow positive from the first quarter
Payback period of seven years
Over 400% return on investment before solar batteries need replacing
Generation of about AUD$20,000 in Large-Scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) per year
Savings over the life of the system around AUD$2,500,000
The hybrid solar system at BCC supplies the school with electricity during the day while the solar battery storage comes into play during peak demand hours, as well as during shoulder hours in the morning and evening.
Post-installation, we have kept in close touch with the school as part of our Operations and Maintenance Service, which includes the close monitoring of this cutting-edge system to ensure that it is running at maximum efficiency. Our financial projections are on par with actual numbers, and the school’s management team is delighted with their investment decision.
Apart from the direct financial and ecological benefits (the solar system is set to reduce BCC’s carbon emissions by a whopping 166 tons per year), another huge win for BCC’s students and teachers is the school’s exciting position as a real-life scenario to demonstrate and learn about sustainability, economics, and engineering. The college has seamlessly integrated the solar system into its education curriculum and attracted a lot of interest from other schools around the country.
Once solar battery prices become more financially viable in the next few years, the school is keen to go completely off-grid, a goal which we are working towards together.
GEM Energy’s electrical engineering team even won a prize for this highly customised solar installation at the 2016 Clean Energy Council’s (CEC) Solar Design and Installation Awards. The event honours innovation and skill in the relatively new field of commercial solar installations. Read the full story here.
Bundaberg Christian College’s compelling need and desire to operate more sustainably gave them the courage to invest in the relatively new technology of large-scale hybrid solar systems. The school is now reaping the rewards of that excellent foresight and judgement, as their future-proof investment pays multiple dividends now and for many years to come.
The solar high school’s cashflow position is robust, its carbon footprint is reduced, and BCC’s students and teachers are enjoying their new real-life learning ground.
GEM Energy are excited to share this project with you as a prime example of our most powerful solar installations, combining a variety of technologies to achieve the best outcome. Schools from all over the country can now beat the pains of rising network and wholesale electricity costs. The technology is mature, and the finance is cheap and easily accessible – there has never been a better time to go solar in Australia!
We are proud to have delivered this state-of-the-art hybrid solar system for Bundaberg Christian College and would like to thank our hard-working installers out in the field, as well as the college’s management team for their trust in our company.