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Top Marks for Examining Solar

November 19, 2009

Outside, it’s a warm summer’s afternoon. Inside, you’re sweating over a maths exam paper, hunched over one of the small, wobbly desks in their endless ranks, the faint drone of the gardener’s lawnmower matching the throbbing in your brain as the sun, glaring through the gymnasium’s large glass window, plays its own unwelcome part in overheating your head.

An example of a schooldays, or schooldaze, memory, and also of passive solar heating. The reality is that heating and other energy requirements mean more than 10million tonnes of carbon emissions are produced by the UK’s schools each year – a not insignificant 2% of Britain’s total emissions.

Schools have plenty of flat roof space to accommodate solar panels. Although it has been suggested that because solar hot water systems reach their peak potential during the summer months, when schools take a long break, they are not worth installing, there are still the warm months of May, June, most of July and September to consider. In any case, during the summer holidays schools are often used for other purposes such as adult education or sports centre activities. As for photovoltaics, with the introduction of feed-in tariffs next year schools will be able to sell any surplus electricity back to the national grid.

Among recent projects, SolarUK designed and installed a solar hot water system for High Hurstwood Primary near Uckfield, East Sussex.

Renewable energy is a great practical educational resource. It’s a theme that can be integrated into science lessons (how the sun’s energy is converted into heat or electricity), geography (tackling climate change), the apparently fast-growing GCSE in Citizenship (reducing your personal carbon footprint) –and probably plenty more across the curriculum.

Unlike trigonometry and algebra, it’s a subject that will affect each and every pupil, as a homeowner or a voter, remaining relevant well beyond that exam room cauldron.

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