Policy last updated
8 December 2021
This policy sets out schools’ responsibilities to reduce their environmental impact and apply environmentally-sustainable design principles when planning new facilities.
- Schools should consider environmentally sustainable design principles when planning, designing and constructing school-funded facilities.
- Schools should reduce the environmental impact of their operations by taking action to reduce their net energy and water consumption and material waste production.
- The Department encourages schools to install renewable energy systems.
- Renewable energy systems must be purchased up-front, and schools must comply with the if they wish to install a renewable energy system exceeding $50,000 in value (including GST).
- The set out the installation requirements for renewable energy systems in schools.
- This policy falls within all stages of the School Asset Lifecycle – Plan, Build, Manage and Dispose.
- For advice on planning a renewable energy project, schools should contact the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) at
Sustainable facilities can reduce the environmental impact and long-term operating costs of running a school, and help to reduce Victoria’s net greenhouse gas emissions.
When constructing new and upgraded school-funded facilities, schools should apply environmentally-sustainable design principles when planning or designing. The includes a range of environmentally sustainable design specifications which schools must comply with. The VSBA can assist schools with understanding these requirements.
The Department encourages schools to consider additional environmentally sustainable design initiatives on an individual project basis. This may include certification to environmental rating systems such as the rating tool.
As part of the Department’s responsibility to reduce environmental impact, the Department encourages schools to:
- regularly check their utility bills to ensure water or energy wastage is not occurring and that waste collection agreements reflect the amount of waste being collected
- raise awareness amongst school leaders, teachers, students and the community about sustainable design and operation of buildings
- employ sustainable principles in purchasing goods and services and consider environmental impact when assessing value for money
- take a whole-of-life approach to assessing the environmental impacts of goods and services and encourage suppliers to meet high standards of environmental performance.
- reduce their energy and water consumption by initiating energy audits and commissioning energy efficiency upgrades
- participate in the Victorian Government‘s Schools Water Efficiency Program (refer to the tab for more information)
- participate in the ResourceSmart Schools initiative (refer to the Resources tab for more information)
- install renewable energy systems such as solar panels and wind turbines (refer to the in the Guidance tab for more information)
- recover energy and water costs incurred by community users of school facilities through joint-use and hire agreements.
Many schools participate in the initiative to reduce their environmental impact. Schools are also encouraged to achieve the following ResourceSmart Schools guidelines benchmarks for utility usage per student.
Maximum usage level per student per year
Primary or secondary school = 4 kilolitres
Energy (electricity kilowatt-hours (kWh) and gas gigajoules (Gj))
Primary school = 250 kWh, 0.4 tonnes CO₂, and 0.9 Gj
Secondary school = 400 kWh, 0.6 tonnes CO₂, and 1.4 Gj
Primary or secondary school = 0.3 m³
Before installing a wind energy system, schools must check with their local council to see:
- if they need a building permit
- that the proposed system complies with relevant planning scheme requirements.
Schools must ensure solar and wind energy systems must be are installed to the appropriate standard:
- by a qualified provider
- using (CEC) accredited installers and approved components, where applicable.
Schools must check relevant buildings for warranties or defect liability periods before installing renewable energy at the proposed locations.
Purchasing and facilities management
Schools must be able to purchase the renewable energy system upfront. Schools cannot enter hire purchase, lease, lease as a payment plan, loan agreements or power purchase agreements. This includes a solar licence agreement between a school council and a third party who installs the equipment at the school site.
Schools must notify the Department for the renewable energy system to be added to the School Asset Management System plan.
Maintenance of the solar power system must be conducted by a CEC accredited installer to ensure compliance and safety standards are met.
Renewable Energy Guidelines
These guidelines contain the following chapters:
- Installation of solar and wind energy in schools
- Solar energy
- Wind energy
These guidelines are designed to ensure schools implement solar and wind energy systems correctly.
- Schools are permitted to install solar and wind energy systems.
- Before installing a solar or wind energy system to the value of more than $50,000 (including GST), schools must comply with the Department’s .
- All renewable energy systems must be purchased up-front.
- Schools must ensure solar and wind energy systems are installed to the appropriate standard by a qualified provider using relevant accredited installers and approved components where applicable.
- Maintenance of the solar power system must be conducted by a Clean Energy Council to ensure compliance and safety standards are met.
- Before installing a wind energy system, schools must check with their local council to see:
- if they need a building permit
- that the proposed system complies with relevant planning scheme requirements.
Installation of solar and wind energy in schools
Installation of solar and wind energy in schools
The Department encourages schools to install solar and wind energy systems where appropriate. When done correctly, these systems:
- reduce the school’s net greenhouse gas emissions
- reduce the school’s electricity bills
- create opportunities to teach students about sustainability.
For solar and wind energy systems connected to the grid, schools may be eligible to receive credit for the electricity they export in the form of feed-in tariffs. Schools may contact their electricity retailer to arrange to receive these tariffs.
Depending on current government schemes, schools may earn credits for purchasing a solar or wind energy system. These credits can reduce the upfront cost of the system. Schools may contact their local council for more information.
Schools can estimate how long it will take for the system to pay for itself by comparing their current annual utility running costs with the cost of the system and the savings produced. They may also need to include other considerations such as feed-in tariffs and credit rates.
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.
Schools are permitted to install wind energy systems on suitable sites. Choosing and installing a wind turbine can take several months. Schools must consider the following factors before installing a wind energy system.
Suitability of the school site for a wind turbine
Unlike solar panels, not all school sites are suitable for wind turbines. It is essential that a site has sufficiently strong and consistent winds at the turbine location and low turbulence in the wind. Sites in rural or coastal locations are typically less sheltered and therefore more suited to wind turbines. An annual average wind speed of at least four meters per second is generally considered necessary to make a wind turbine viable. For detailed information about Victoria’s wind resources, schools should consult the , produced by Sustainability Victoria. The is also a useful resource.
Permission for schools to construct wind turbines
Section 16 of the permits schools to construct wind turbines on their site on behalf of the Minister for Education without a planning permit. Schools must, however, check with their local council if a building permit is required, and that the proposed wind turbine complies with relevant planning scheme requirements. The Department encourages schools to consult neighbours to make them aware of any proposed plans.
Available wind turbines
Schools should contact a wind turbine installer to help identify the most suitable wind turbine for their site. The Department encourages schools to purchase wind turbines from an established and reputable manufacturer, to ensure they will provide maintenance support for the life of the wind turbine.
Amount of wind energy to be generated
Schools can estimate the amount of electricity a wind turbine can generate using a ‘power curve’ that can usually be supplied by the manufacturer, and site wind data. Additionally, the contract for the supply and installation of the wind power system should include an estimate of the average annual electricity output (in kWh).
An inverter converts energy captured or generated by a renewable energy system into electricity which can be used by the school. The energy output from photovoltaic cells is direct current (DC), like that of a battery, and needs to be converted into alternating current (AC), like the electricity that comes out of a wall outlet. This is then useable for lighting, computers, refrigerators, or heating and cooling systems.
Renewable energy comes from resources that are continually replenished including sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves and geothermal heat. Developments in renewable energy technology have led to increased usage in households, businesses and public sector organisations, including schools.
Energy from the solar power system is produced without emission of greenhouse gases, reducing the school’s environmental footprint. The system also enables a school to purchase less power from the grid, resulting in a saving on utilities costs. At times when a school is using less energy than is being generated, the excess energy is fed back into the grid, and the school receives credit from their energy provider for this contribution.
Solar energy systems
Solar panels convert sunlight into electricity. An increasing number of Australian homes, businesses and schools are installing solar photovoltaic (solar PV) systems, referred to as solar panels.
Solar PV systems are popular for a number of reasons, including:
- positive return on investment
- low visual impact on buildings
- electricity generation
- they are silent, with no moving parts
- low maintenance.
Wind energy systems
Wind energy systems are designed to capture the wind throughout the day and night to generate mechanical power or electricity. Wind energy systems produce the same general benefits as solar energy systems, but can only be installed on school sites with sufficient exposure to wind.
Solar Power Systems Performance Specification
Technical specifications outlining the standards required for suppliers to meet when installing a solar power system. This document is to be provided to solar installers at the beginning of any procurement or quotation arrangements to ensure that systems quoted and installed are compliant within schools:
Sustainability and Environment Unit
The Sustainability and Environment Unit (SEU) serves the Victorian School Building Authority (VSBA) by advising, overseeing, managing and implementing environmental sustainability initiatives in government schools.
SEU oversees and manages the Greener Government School Buildings Program and also provide guidance and information to schools looking to install solar power systems in schools.
Greener Government School Buildings Program
The Victorian Government has established the Greener Government School Buildings (GGSB) program to improve the energy efficiency of school buildings, and reduce operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions.
The program offers interest-free loans for eligible schools to install solar panel systems. Energy efficiency and sustainability program activities can link with school curriculum and resources, helping schools and the Department learn more about the best ways to reduce energy consumption and save schools money on their utilities bills. The Victorian School Building Authority will use the program results to help develop school and Department policies, as well as the design of future environmental sustainability programs.
Schools Water Efficiency Program
The School Water Efficiency Program (SWEP) provides data loggers to all Victorian schools. The program allows facility managers, teachers and students online access to up-to-date water consumption information. They can use this information to identify when excessive water consumption occurs.
ResourceSmart Schools is a Sustainability Victoria program that provides practical support to reduce resource use, make cost savings, integrate sustainability into the curriculum and share learnings beyond the school gate.
The program offers access to a network of experts throughout Victoria to help embed sustainability in schools.
Victorian School Building Authority
Reviewed 30 March 2020