Solar Panels at FHS

Powering for the future and the bigger picture at Fitzroy High School
Recent visitors to Fitzroy High School (FHS) may have noticed an addition to the roof of the Science-Technology building. A few weeks ago a large bank of solar panels were constructed in this location. The installation of solar panels at FHS will make a large contribution to reducing the carbon footprint at the Falconer Street Campus and the overall aim of promoting Education for Sustainability (EfS) in every aspect of the life of the school.

Solar Panels and the Victorian State Government
At a recent meeting of the School Council the Principal, Linda Mitchell, the President, Ralph Saubern and all members of the Council expressed their gratitude to the Victorian State Government for providing the program ‘Greener Government Schools’ which the school was a successful applicant to have panels located on campus. The school will pay back their share of the project cost – $60,000 over the next five years and will share in the ongoing cost savings
created by the solar generated energy. The installation of solar panels at Fitzroy High School (FHS) will make a small but significantly ‘inter-connected’ contribute to the Victorian Government’s Renewable Energy Target (VRET).
The placement of solar panels at the school links the whole FHS community with other changes that are taking place nationwide. The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) was established in 2012 and has successfully promoted innovation in clean energy technologies. Australia has one of the highest uptakes of rooftop solar globally, with 2.6 million homes and businesses already using solar power. This rate is predicted to rise to one in two homes within a decade. In Victoria, half a million home systems generate renewable energy, almost a third of the state’s residential electricity demand. Victorian State Government subsidies and interest-free loans have encouraged uptake and solar feed-in tariffs (money paid to solar system owners for exporting excess power back into the grid) have also provided an incentive.
It will be a magnificent outcome if, in the future all of Victoria’s schools sourced electricity from 100 per cent renewable sources, which is an aim of the State Government, and that FHS was one link in this connecting and sustainable sequence.

Solar Panels and Education for Sustainability at FHS
The School Council hopes that the installation of the solar panels demonstrates an unreserved commitment to Education for Sustainability (EfS), to the whole FHS community, but in particular to the students – their future very much depending on these links in a vast sustainable chain. FHS has a history of challenging students to be active citizens, raising awareness or taking personal action in terms of their own impact on the planet.

Since November 2018 the Alicia Flynn (Melbourne University Graduate School of Education) report has enhanced and guided the schools EfS program; it identifies:

  • ‘ecological education’ as synonymous with FHS education, not a minor program or add-on and
  • the ‘Four Commitments’, place i.e. the school site and surrounding human and biophysical environments; eco-ed subjects and ecopedagogy i.e teaching with the head and heart.

As examples of the last commitment, sustainable governance and eco-praxis i.e. the ‘hidden curriculum’, the school’s holistic approach has been to integrate EfS into the work of School Council, parents, the wider community as well as the teachers and students. This has prompted many projects such as:

  • undertaking a native garden and grounds enhancement program (FHS won an Environmental Award from the City of Yarra for this program) – involving parents in creating environmental learning areas;
  • constructing a community/school compost bin – involving a community organisation;
  • building a school weather station – involving the science industry.

Understanding and continuously improving the relationship between students, teachers and the school’s physical infrastructure is also fundamental to providing support for their health and wellbeing and the school’s sustainability program. The solar panels which were added to the school in 2021 will provide a very tangible link in achieving these goals. With the help of the Victorian Government we have been able to do this together. These new solar panels at FHS will be part of, ‘the hunger to know, too understand, to advance…to brighten the future…to look to the core ingredients we’ve relied on before…imagination, curiosity, respect and investment…investing in our future’. (The Hon. Anthony Albanese, National Press Club Address, June 2020).

The Solar Power Systems at FHS
The school does have an existing system consists of 32 panels which is located on the north- facing roof of the FHS Gymnasium See Figure 1 (Source: Aerial base, Google 2020) below.
The most suitable roof for the location of the new solar panel system was that of the Science/Technology building. See Figure 2 (Source: Aerial base, Google 2020) below.

136 new panels installed during term 2. The system is made up of 132 panels and has a generating capacity of 61.2kW.



In addition to the panels, an inverter and smart logger are installed on the eastern wall of the building to feed the generated electricity to the school network and to provide an interface for use by the school and energy providers to monitor system performance and usage data in real time.

The solar panels are intended to link energy efficiency and sustainability program activities with the school curriculum. Subjects such as Science, Maths, Technology Studies and Integrated Studies are amongst a range of curriculum areas which will use the solar panels, their technology the data they generate and their links to the wider world as a basis of unit studies.
The Falconer Street Campus solar system provides a tangible link with the new Fitzroy Gasworks (Senior Campus) where the architects and the Victorian School Building Authority have included a bank of solar panels on the Level 6 Rooftop Court.
(see: https://www.schoolbuildings.vic.gov.au/schools/Pages/FitzroyGasworksSeniorCampus.aspx)

The Solar Power Systems and the work of the Buildings and Environments
Subcommittee of FHS Council
The submission to the Greener Government Schools Building Program that successfully achieved the addition of the solar power system at the Falconer Road Campus was the work of the school’s leadership team and members of the Buildings and Environments Subcommittee (B&ES) of FHS Council.
The work of the B&ES involves reviewing, commenting upon and making recommendations to the School Council regarding:

  • finance – i.e. the status of the Building Fund;
  • EfS and general matters relating to Environmental Education and Eco Pedagogy;
  • a coherent plan for the school’s grounds and buildings – to include all related matters such as bicycle parking, car parking, composting, drains/drainage, fences, eating areas, edges, industrial bins, compost bins, gardens and biota, kitchen garden, lighting, notice/information boards, paths, seating, service boxes, shade and shade structures, signage, specialist buildings, surfaces, recreation areas, recycling, rubbish bins, under-utilized spaces, walls; weather station etc;
  • matters concerning neighbours and the community living within the immediate school precinct;
  • the ‘Operations Report’ presented to the Subcommittee at each of its meetings;
  • other matters as they relate to the Subcommittee implementing the school’s strategic direction, programs and initiatives.

At the moment the B&ES is a very small Subcommittee. We are in need of new members. If there are any parents, carers or community members of FHS who are interested in the work of this Subcommittee and would like to make a contribution you would be most welcome. The meetings of the Subcommittee usually take place, late Thursday afternoon, at least ten days before the School Council meetings which usually take place on the last Wednesday of the month.
To find out more about the B&ES and volunteering opportunities, contact Roger Smith, Convenor of the Buildings and Environments Subcommittee, by email at rogersmith1546@gmail.com

Roger Smith
Convenor
Buildings and Environments Subcommittee of FHS Council