Federal energy minister Angus Taylor has taken a break from campaigning for “fair dinkum” power this week to spruik an off-grid, solar and battery powered classroom at a state high school in Brisbane.
The classroom at the Bracken Ridge High School in Brisbane’s northern suburbs is the first completely off-grid demonstration of NSW company Hivve Technology’s energy self-sufficient modular classroom – a modern and highly efficient version of the old school portable.
According to Hivve executive director David Wrench, the solar and Tesla Powerwall 2 battery has been successfully running the Brisbane classroom for the past five months.
“The lowest the battery has ever got to is around 70 per cent capacity and we’ve had some pretty overcast and rainy conditions over the past few weeks,” he said.
The feat, which Taylor is claiming as an Australian first – although we note that this entire school in WA is now doing the same – follows a NSW pilot of the technology in January, backed by $369,115 from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.
In that trial, the classrooms – themselves called Hivves – incorporated rooftop solar PV, real time energy metering, carbon dioxide metering, data capture and an in-classroom dashboard that provides real-time data and gives teachers control of the classroom environment.
And of course, the classrooms are also fully air conditioned.
The performance of the two prototype Hivves – one at St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School in Holsworthy in Sydney’s south western suburbs and one at Dapto High School in Dapto – was monitored, with data collected at 15 minute intervals.
According to information released to media this week, Hivve estimates that the savings the classrooms can deliver to schools could be as high as $3,000 per unit per year, as well as the avoided cost of a new grid connection, which can be as high as $30,000.
“This classroom has no power bills because it’s completely off-grid,” Wrench said.
“In fact, the cost of the solar and battery system was lower than the cost of connecting it to the grid.”
As we reported here in January, the Hivves are said to be able to generate enough power to meet the demand of three average classrooms – that is, while a regular school classroom can consume an average of 3,800kWh a year, a Hivve generates an estimated net of 7,600kWh a year.
That excess energy can be shared within the school network, or – in the case of the Broken Ridge example launched this week – stored in a battery for later use.
Or as Angus Taylor’s office put it, the “Hivve classroom in Brisbane includes rooftop solar PV and a Tesla Powerwall battery for energy storage which will ensure the students can continue to learn when the sun isn’t shining.”
“This project demonstrates a model for schools to lower their costs by reducing energy consumption in classrooms and reliance on the grid,” the energy minister said on Thursday.
But as Hivve’s Wrench noted in comments on Thursday, it is actually more proof that renewables plus storage can be “cheaper than the alternative” – even fair-dinkum power.
“I think that meets both objectives; low-cost power and having power on a sustainable basis,” he said.
“We are greatly encouraged by the robust trial results …which confirms this Australian-developed technology has now made the transition from an idea to a commercial reality.
“The Hivve classroom concept has the potential to be a game changer in how our children are educated, providing a completely sustainable solution by powering all its own infrastructure – including air conditioning – while also feeding energy back
into the school to run other classrooms.”
ARENA chief executive officer Darren Miller said the successful trials would pave the way for the technology to be rolled out at other schools across the country.
“Many schools on the eastern seaboard are currently at capacity on-grid connection,” he said in a statement.
“This Australian-developed solution could help schools reduce costs and emissions, while also reducing reliance and demand on the grid.”