Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, generate electricity directly from sunlight. Installing solar panels at your school may help reduce your overall carbon emissions and energy bill.
- Decision and approval process
- Ministry-owned vs. Third Party-owned solar panels
- Maintaining solar panels
- What to expect from a solar provider
- Sustainability Contestable Fund proposals
- Where to find more information
Solar systems are most suitable for installation when they are part of a school’s sustainability and/or energy efficiency programme. Ideally they would be installed after basic energy efficiency improvements have been completed. These improvements might include:
- new or improved insulation
- installation of LED lighting
- better energy controls (for example, water heater timers, central heat pump control, thermostats, the ability to turn off all non-essential energy), and
- energy efficient practices and education.
This is important as energy efficiency initiatives generally deliver more cost effective energy gains and carbon reductions than solar installation projects. More information is available on Energy use and conservation in schools.
You may choose to purchase and own solar panels at your school, or you may enter into a lease arrangement with a solar provider who will continue to own the panels. In either case, you should speak with your Ministry Property Advisor before installing solar panels.
Before you contact your Property Advisor about proceeding with a solar energy project, you should ensure the following considerations have been taken into account and are addressed within the package/proposal you receive from a solar panel provider:
- Payback from solar (i.e. the time it will take to recoup the upfront costs of the solar system from savings made on your electricity bills) depends on three factors:
- The total upfront installation cost
- The cost per unit ($/kWh) for the generated electricity (variable charges)
- The amount of electricity which is used during daylight when the sun is shining.
Reducing CO2 emissions
- How will the solar panels reduce carbon (CO2) emissions?
- What other emissions reductions opportunities are available to the school?
Location and sunshine hours
- Whether the proposed solar panel location has optimal sun and isn’t in a shaded location (i.e. the number of sunshine hours where the school is located)?
Key features of the installation
- Does the system include battery storage? Battery storage should be a good investment for the school, taking into account the ongoing costs associated with the lifecycle replacement of the battery.
Note: Solar systems will shut down in the event of a power cut as a safety measure. The exception is if batteries are fitted but unless a very large solar and battery system is installed, available energy services are likely to be compromised. Consider which energy services are essential for continuing the school day, or in an emergency situation. Is the proposed system sufficient to meet these requirements?
- What energy sources will the solar system replace? This will normally be grid electricity, although it could possibly be backup generation which is likely to be diesel.
- Has self-consumption been taken into account? Self-consumption refers to the use of solar PV energy directly at source – either immediately or delayed through the use of battery storage systems.
- How can the school adapt their operational practices to maximise any energy efficiency and get the most value out of their installations? For example, how could the school move as many energy services as possible to when solar is generating, to maximise use of solar-generated electricity?
- What is the school’s current electricity usage? Will the solar installation provide sufficient electricity to meet the school’s average and maximum demands across all seasons?
Cleaning and maintenance
- What are the maintenance costs of solar panels (including any costs associated with health and safety requirements for working on roofs)? What are the replacement costs of inverters and batteries if applicable if you own them and how they will be covered? Are they part of the provider’s package?
- Is there safe access to the panels for cleaning and maintenance (refer to our roof safety webpage for more information)?
- Have you considered the remaining life of the roof and any added expense and risks if solar panels need to be disconnected and re-installed if the roof requires replacement?
- Consider having your roof evaluated to make sure it can withstand solar panel installation.
- Consider your roof’s remaining life, including whether your roof is currently included in the project list on your school’s 10YPP for maintenance works.
- Undertake the required repair/maintenance/replacement before installing the solar panel. This will avoid the costs in the long run associated with removing and reinstalling the solar panels on the roof.
Warranties and guarantees
- What warranties and guarantees are provided for the solar panel?
The following warranties are applicable to solar panels. Have you checked the relevant warranty with your solar provider?
- Panel performance warranty (Industry standard – 25 years): The performance warranty is to warrant the degradation of the cells over 25 years.
- Panel product warranty: The product warranty is to cover defective materials or workmanship in the manufacture of the Panel. It is provided by the manufacturer of the Panel, not the solar installation company. It is very important that your panels’ product warranty is at least 10 years.
- Inverter warranty: The inverter warranty is probably the most important warranty you will need. The reason for this is because this is the component of your system that is most likely to fail. They are working day in, day out at high voltage. Inverters generally will have a 5 year warranty. Upgrades to 10 years are available with some brands depending on the manufacturer.
- Installation warranty (Provided by the installer): The final warranty, the installation warranty, is also very important. You need to assess what will you be charged for in case of a breakdown. It is the Company’s policy that is important here. Will you have to pay for a service call if one of the components fails? Does the Company take care of the entire system if there is any problem?
Opportunities for educational use
- Are there possibilities to include an associated software package which is accessible, interesting and useful for students (with the level of analysis tailored to the students’ ages) e.g. School-gen(external link).
Impact on existing infrastructure
- Have you discussed the potential impacts on your school’s existing infrastructure with your Property Advisor?
If the school is considering purchasing or replacing solar panels through their 5YA funding, note that they are a priority 4 item in their 10 Year Property Plan (10YPP). They would only be funded through 5 Year Agreement (5YA) funding, after all priority 1-3 items have been completed.
Solar panel installations require that the school’s Ten Year Property Plan (10YPP) is amended in agreement with the Ministry. This is because most solar panel installations have an impact on a school’s existing infrastructure.
Solar panel installation
The Ministry requires that all solar panels are installed by the Sustainable Electricity Association of New Zealand member installers to ensure compliance with all relevant standards and requirements. This is a requirement regardless of whether the solar panels are owned by the Ministry, the school, or a third party.
This is in part because SEANZ members are required to complete an inspection/installation checklist and also provide equipment and workmanship warranties.
This is also because solar panels have the potential to change or damage electrical systems and rooves if they are not installed properly. Schools installing solar panels need to confirm with the appropriate suppliers if this will affect their roofing product warranties.
SEANZ installers must comply with:
- The NZ Metal Roofing and Wall Cladding Code of Practice, especially section 2.6, 2.7, 2.6.9, and any additional recommendations on the New Zealand Metal Roofing Manufacturers Association website and,
- The Ministry’s weathertightness and durability requirements - detailed drawings should be provided for sign off by a Building Enclosure Specialist.
MBIE must receive documented evidence for registration into their Energy Safety High Risk Database(external link).
Ministry-owned solar panels
A number of schools plan to install solar panels that have been funded through the Sustainability Contestable Fund. In these instances, the panels will be paid for with Crown funds and owned by the Ministry. Therefore schools must take steps to maintain and protect these assets.
Third-party ownership of solar panels
A number of schools have entered into direct agreements with third parties. Under these agreements the solar panels are owned by the third party.
Solar panels that are owned by someone other than the school require an agreement that incorporates property related aspects of the panel’s installation. The Ministry has minimum standards that will need to be taken into account in the formal agreement with the provider.
Refer to the “Leasing or hiring school land and buildings” web page for additional third party occupancy information of solar panels.
Solar panels that are owned by third parties need to have any proposed contractual arrangements reviewed. Schools should submit the following to their Property Advisor:
- a standard third party occupancy application
- the Electrical Services Agreement that the third party has prepared and,
- Board of Trustee minutes or letter in support of the contract.
Schools can use their Property Maintenance Grant (PMG) to maintain and repair solar panels that are owned by the Ministry if the maintenance is not included in the package from their provider.
Schools should ask their solar provider to provide them with information about the installation considerations listed on this page. Warranties are an important aspect of protecting a solar panel. Schools should ask their solar provider about warranties and guarantees they are offering as part of their package. Schools are encouraged to get more than one quote if this is possible.
As well as the above considerations, if developing solar installation proposals for the Sustainability Contestable Fund, schools should see the Fund Webpage.
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