Schools are permitted to install solar energy systems.
Investment in a solar power system has immediate environmental benefits and potential for medium and long term financial benefits if the system that is installed is of high quality, of an appropriate size and is adequately maintained.
A solar power system is a complex electrical system and requires certain conditions to be met before a school may be deemed suitable to have solar installed.
Solar panels must comply with Australian standards AS 5033, and be installed by Clean Energy Council (CEC) accredited installers, with CEC approved panel and inverter components. Installers must also adhere to the Victorian School Building Authority's (VSBA) guidelines
A CEC accredited installer will be able to assess your school and recommend a suitably sized solar power system with consideration to these conditions:
- electrical mains switchboard capability of connecting with additional systems
- buildings of sound structure
- available suitable roof surface
- suitable building orientation
- suitable building included in the school’s entitlement, and in good condition (rated 2.5 or better by Rolling Facilities Evaluation)
- suitable roof angle, pitch or tilt
- roof free of significant overshadowing from other structures or objects
- the building is not designated as the school’s
- identifying a suitable location for the inverter(s)
- obtain relevant engineering certifications as required by the electricity distributor and performance specifications (for example, electrical, structural, BCA compliance).
When considering installing solar panels, a school must check whether the roof to which they plan to attach the panels is under warranty or within the defect liability period. If so, the school must install the solar panels collaboratively with the roof provider, ensuring that the installation does not void the warranty. Alternatively, ensure that the panels come with appropriate roof integrity warranties.
Solar power system sizing
A solar power system can reduce your school’s expenditure on electricity by reducing your reliance on purchasing electricity from the grid, which is generated from sources such as coal power plants. At times where the system is generating more power than is used by the school, such as weekends and during holidays, this excess can be fed back to the grid and the school will receive a credit. Increasing the use of renewable energy decreases the amount of emissions that a school creates.
Generally, the peak hours of electricity usage at a school are similar to the times of the day when solar energy is most available. Larger solar power systems absorb and generate more electricity, but the credit for it being fed back into the grid may be relatively low (much lower than it costs to purchase), so the financial benefits for the school may not always increase along with the size of the system.
Purchasing solar power systems
Solar power systems must be purchased up-front. Under the (ETRA 2006) schools and school councils do not have the power to enter into hire purchase, lease as a payment plan, loan agreements or rental agreements with a third party who installs the equipment at the school site.
Additionally, schools must not enter Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with solar power providers to install systems and purchase the electricity output. The Victorian Government’s (SPC) arrangements for electricity supply to government buildings include government schools. Lease agreements such as PPAs for electricity supply would breach existing government SPC contracts, as the school would be purchasing their electricity from another provider.
The Greener Government School Building Program offers interest-free loans for eligible schools to install solar power systems. Schools can email for more information and to determine if they are eligible.
School must follow the relevant Victorian Government procurement processes:
- for projects greater than $50,000 value (including GST) refer to:
- for projects less then $50,000 value (including GST) refer to: .
Each potential installer must provide a written quotation clearly outlining the following inclusions and costs:
- a list of the equipment being installed, including, where relevant, the quantity, size, make and model
- warranties for all installed equipment, including for manufacturing and performance where applicable
- costs for electrical works required before using the system, or any measures required to restrict unauthorised access to the system
- grid protection, for systems larger than 30 kW
- labour costs
- details regarding solar feed-in credits, as the administration of these at installation is generally done by the installer
- any monitoring apparatus that are included.
Quotations received from installers may also include an estimate of the financial and environmental impacts of the system.
How to calculate financial and environmental savings
As most financial savings will come from reducing the amount of power you need to purchase, you can estimate how much this will be by calculating how much electricity the solar power system will generate and multiplying this by the current energy retail price. For example, a 50 kW system might expect to see savings around $10,000 to $20,000 depending on the energy usage profile of the school.
For each kW capacity of solar panels installed, a school could expect the system to reduce the emission of 1.6 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.
Installation procedures and requirements
Schools must use CEC accredited installers. Accreditation requires the technician to be a licensed electrician, complete a training course and continue ongoing professional development.
Every installation carried out by an accredited installer is required to meet the following Australian Standards:
- AS4777 Grid-connections of energy systems via inverters
- AS/NZS 3000 Electrical wiring rules
- AS 1768 Lightning protection
- AS/NZS 1170.2 Wind loads
- AS/NZS 5033 Installation of photovoltaic arrays
Installation should be arranged outside school hours so that students are not on-site. It is preferable that installations are conducted during school holidays so as not to endanger students or cause interruptions to school operations. The installer must always follow required safety standards and barricade the working area to ensure the safety of any person in the area.
After the system has been installed, the installer should provide the school with:
- a maintenance manual for the system
- a list of the installed equipment
- an electrical diagram and photographs of the system
- a Certificate of Electrical Safety
- a Structural Certificate from a structural engineer.
The installer is also required provide training on the basic operation of the system, and how to operate the monitoring system.
Monitoring and maintenance
The Department encourages schools to regularly check their solar power data monitoring system to confirm their system is working properly. At any sign of reduced performance or issue, schools should have their system inspected by a CEC accredited installer.
Maintenance of the system must be conducted by a CEC accredited installer to ensure compliance and safety standards are met. Maintenance generally consists of cleaning of the panels and inspection of electrical components. Please note that rain does not clean solar panels, and may leave dirt residue which will impact the performance of the solar panels.
As there are no moving parts to solar panels, maintenance is relatively minimal and therefore costs are generally low depending on the size of the system.
The performance of solar power systems decreases slightly over time. Most quality systems are guaranteed to last at least 25 years, and to operate at no less than 80% of their original capacity at 25 years. A system may still have useful life beyond 25 years, however the solar power cells will continue to reduce in efficiency over time.
If there are concerns with a solar power system or in the event of issues or faults with the system, schools should leave the system alone and contact the installer for advice and rectification.
Schools are responsible for removing systems they have purchased. Disposal of the system is to be conducted by CEC accredited installers to ensure that the electrical system is safely disconnected and the panels are removed.
As solar panels are a relatively recent technology, it is not certain what the cost will be for disposal at the end of the life span, including any potential recycling. A contemporary estimate is that it may amount to approximately one-third of the installation cost, depending on the size of the solar power system. A 50 kW system for example would be expected to generate enough savings in a year to cover the cost of disposal at the system’s end-of-life. Schools should refer to a CEC accredited installer for a quote on disposal of the system.
Reviewed 28 June 2021