Meet Dan Sturrock, Aussie dad championing solar in our schools

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Dan Sturrock – Australian Parents for Climate Action (AP4CA) Solar our Schools ‘Champion’ Q&A

pv magazine Australia: Dan, you’re a father of two in Sydney’s inner west with a career in renewable energy investment, why did you think it was so important to champion the Solar our Schools campaign within your kids’ school community?

Dan Sturrock, AP4CA Solar our Schools (SOS) ‘Champion’: The Solar Our Schools campaign calls on the Federal Government to fund solar panels and batteries for every school and early childhood centre in Australia. This is a great way to boost the growth of renewable energy, while reducing energy bills for schools, educating kids about the important role of renewable energy and acting as a stimulus for job creation.

How do you personally ‘champion’ the campaign? Is your kids’ school heeding your call?

As one of many SOS ‘Champions’ across Australia, I’ll be sharing the Open Letter with my children’s school community, and via other community groups and channels. It’s a great opportunity to start conversations with other parents, and teachers, about the many benefits of renewable energy.

With your history in the renewable energy industry, how feasible is the Solar our Schools campaign? Can every school in Australia viably have solar and energy storage? How can it be done?

It is certainly feasible, but there are critical factors to be considered. These include high-quality implementation partners and ensuring the systems perform over the long term.

You’ve been an Investment Director at ARENA* since 2013, was a campaign like Solar our Schools possible back then? Or is it only with the rapid growth of renewables that something like SOS seems possible?

The sector has certainly come a long way over the past seven years. In particular, the distributed battery sector has matured rapidly over the past three years. The costs of rooftop solar keep reducing. And, batteries have benefited from rapid advancements in technology, as well as cost reductions.

If large-scale investment in solar has slowed due to the federal policy vacuum, are smaller scale community VPP projects like those of schools an opportunity for expansive small-scale investment?

One of the benefits of distributed energy is that it has been able to maintain strong momentum through periods that have been challenging for large-scale projects, which, at the moment, relate to grid-connection challenges. VPPs provide the opportunity for the benefits of technology to be fully realised, through central coordination across a large number of systems.

Over in WA we are about to see ten schools transformed into VPPs thanks to the Schools Virtual Power Plant pilot project, part of the WA Recovery Plan. Are schools as VPPs the future?

Schools are certainly an interesting opportunity given the role of State Governments as the owners of most schools, so the Government can take an active role in designing the program to realise the potential of a VPP. Schools also present challenges given their demand profile; they’re not typically not occupied over weekends and school holidays. This means that the energy generated on site is sent back into the grid and can ideally be exported at times when demand for power is high.

As is the case with renewable energy generally, the states and territories are engaging ‘solar in schools’ programs of varying sizes (NT solar schools rollout, ACT, WA, Estelle Dee in NSW etc.), but what is stopping federal commitment on this campaign? Surely it’s a win for schools, industry, and Covid-19 economic recovery…

From media reports, I sense the Federal Government, together with State Governments, are considering a wide range of programs to stimulate the economy, including in renewable energy.

As individuals, as communities, and as a nation, what can we do to make Solar our Schools a reality and not just common sense?

These sorts of programs need to keep pushing and demonstrate the business base over time. The solar business case is very strong – solar PV makes complete sense and generates strong benefits to the Government in terms of return on investment. Batteries offer additional benefits, including benefits to the electricity system and providing additional learning opportunities for students. As part of a VPP, schools can sell their excess solar energy stored in their battery to others, who get a lower rate for this electricity than conventional power.

Over 4,000 people have already signed the open letter, click here to join them.

*Dan’s views shared here are his own; he is not speaking on behalf of ARENA.

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