Energy-neutral goal for students taking innovative climate action

Energy-neutral goal for students taking innovative climate action

Students at Tarremah Steiner School in Huntingfield have taken action to become energy-neutral.

The school is on track to become the first energy-neutral school in Tasmania. 

The group sought and received an interest-free loan of $70,000 from not-for-profit renewable energy fund, CORENA, to employ local solar provider, Powercom, to install solar panels.

A 100 kilowatt solar system, including 303 panels, were installed during the July school holidays. 

The panels have recently been switched on and currently provide 83 per cent of the school’s power.

“In their first month, the panels produced more than 7000 kilowatt hours of electricity, and that was in the middle of winter!” says parent helper, Rosie Barry.

“I can’t wait to see how much power we generate during summer, when the days are long and sunny.”

Mrs Barry says any excess power will be sold back to the energy grid. 

The loan will be repaid by the energy savings but the students are also starting a crowd sourcing campaign, to repay the loan early. 

The student sustainability group behind the project, ‘The Susteinerbles’, plan to reduce power consumption next. 

Concerned by the negative effects of climate change, the school’s student sustainability group ‘The Susteinerbles’, devised creative methods to raise funds towards a professional assessment of the school’s energy consumption, to look at alternative methods of energy production.

“During National Science Week last year, we held a pedal-powered cinema night to raise awareness about climate change and money for our solar project,” says Year 10 student, Freya Carter.

“We took turns peddling repurposed bikes to actually create the power to run the projector.

“We also sold smoothies that we made with a pedal-powered blender.”

The group then employed Sustainable Living Tasmania to perform a mini audit of the school’s energy consumption and explore the idea of installing solar power.

The students found that there would be significant long-term financial gains by converting to solar power, as well as future-proofing the school for possible changes in other related areas and reducing their environmental impact.

They identified ways in which to reduce the school’s energy consumption, and potentially use only as much energy as they produce, which would make them Tasmania’s first energy-neutral school.

They subsequently developed a compelling business case which they presented to the school council.

With the school’s approval, and the help of a few parents and teachers, the students were able to organise for external consultants to offer advice and secure a loan to turn their dream into reality.

“It was a student initiative right from the onset,” said teacher and group mentor, Michael Rowland.

“It has been completed with adult assistance, but it couldn’t have happened without the students.

“As well as the environmental benefits, converting the school’s power source to solar has significant financial benefits for the school.

“Not only have we reduced the school’s dependence on the energy grid, but with the money saved on electricity bills, we have dramatically reduced the school’s expenditure.”

“Once the loan is paid off, we’ll be able to spend more money on things for the children’s education,” says School Chair, Matt Bale.

The solar project has provided learning opportunities for the students in a diverse range of subjects from maths and science to english and media studies.

Students have organised a campaign for supporters to sponsor a solar panel.

“It’s not just about paying off the loan,” says Mrs Barry.

“The Susteinerbles are proud of their contribution to the school and to the environment, and they want to invite the whole school community to share in this achievement.

“The Susteinerbles are proud to be fostering a positive vision of hope for the future. “They hope that their achievement might inspire others to lead change in the community.”

Year 9 student, Lyn Barry, sums it up:

“I'm so excited that the solar panels have finally been installed.

“It’s very rewarding knowing that all our hard work has paid off, and especially to know that we really can make a difference in this world.”

The students plan to use the savings for school and education enhancements. 

They would like to become a beacon school to demonstrate the potential of energy-neutrality to other schools and have already attended the Tasmanian Youth Climate Leaders Conference, to talk about the project.

The students have produced a video and are raising money to pay the loan off early by offering members of the community an opportunity to sponsor a solar panel for the school and receive a reward and a chance to win various prizes.

The video and further information can be found at:

Pictured above: Students at Tarremah Steiner School have taken action to become energy-neutral. They will soon be the first energy-neutral school in the state. The ‘Susteinerbles’, clockwise from left: Angel Xie (adult helper), Ali Barry, Lyn Barry, Thea Dobie, Geoff Barry, Rory Spinaze and Zephyr Coull. (PS)