Bundaberg Christian College
Bundaberg Christian College
Solar high school: Solar PV and battery revive college finances and curriculumIn 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.
Business ProblemDuring 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 SolutionThe 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