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Recent news revealed that 2023 recorded a consistent temperature of 1.5 degrees above average. It seems now that there’s no doubt that the climate crisis is here to stay. So is the key question now, how can we limit the potential risks?

One solution is renewable energy.

PV and Solar Options

There are lots of routes to achieving this, but one popular solution is solar or ‘photovoltaic’ (PV) energy. Chawton Hill has been working with Powercor on several projects. One of Powercor’s specialisms is the installation of PV systems in schools.

There are many advantages to installing PV systems, from providing education opportunities to students, to energy savings or even feed-in tariff revenue from the national grid. But what are the potential costs, risks and key considerations when moving to solar power?

We caught up with Dave from Chawton Hill and Chris from Powercor to find out more…

  • Chris: What are the benefits of PV systems and how easy are they to maintain?

A big bonus of course is de-carbonisation. Depending on the size of the array (the number and scale of panels fitted) you can often have a surplus of energy for your building. This in turn means you can potentially sell surplus energy to other users or the grid, making it not just a green energy source, but a revenue source too.

  • Dave: What are the costs of installing panels, and how long does it take to recoup that cost?

With a return on investment of just three years in many cases, the cost can be recouped far more quickly than most other decarbonisation investments. Certain bodies can also apply for financial support or in some cases funding for energy efficient projects. This means that the capital investment cost can be relatively low.

  • Chris: Are PV panels truly sustainable? Can you measure the long-term (embodied) carbon cost including the mining of materials to make them, etc?

The carbon trail is a concern, and with it still being early days, things are evolving all the time. Panels generally start life in China, although some come from the US. However, panels generally have a life expectancy of 25 years at least, so it will be some time before life-expired panels are a major concern.

There are already regulations in place for the disposal and recovery of materials in end-of-life panels and we’ve no doubt that over time, the ability to re-use and recycle materials will improve. More info is at: https://www.greenmatch.co.uk/blog/2017/10/the-opportunities-of-solar-panel-recycling

  • Dave: What’s your role in the process? How does Chawton Hill add value to the installation of PV panels?

Chawton Hill can help in several ways across the process of panel installation. This starts with feasibility studies and assisting with planning regulations. We also bring access to our wide network of specialist engineers, designers and experts who can help ensure the installation is completed on time, on budget and in compliance with the law. One thing you don’t want is to find that you’ve installed the panels but haven’t complied with planning regulations or requirements of your local authority.

  • Chris: Given the British weather, and the fact that during the ‘sunniest’ period of the year, schools are closed, can solar energy really be cost-effective?

This is the classic question that comes up regularly. Yes, a lot of schools are shut in the summer, but many do now use their spaces in the summer – summer clubs, staffingactivities etc. There may still be a surplus, but we can use that for other things.

St Georges in Weybridge is a good example of a school where the team added £1 million of solar equipment, but now finds ways to use the energy when there’s a surplus – car charging, cooling, etc. and as mentioned there’s a possibility to earn money by feeding energy back to the grid. Sleeving is one option, where you can sell energy to other partners.

There are many options to ensure the PV panels are still working even if your staff are on holiday. And In fact, though many people associate PV with bright sunshine, they can be very effective in standard daylight. One client had one of their most efficient months in February 2023.

  • Dave: From experience what do you find the hardest to manage on school projects – how can clients help make the project as successful as possible?

Some of the biggest challenges tend to be around listed buildings. The risks and challenges here are particularly interesting. Council/conservation officers can then need involvement and things become potentially more complicated and protracted. We’ve had good levels of success by keeping on top of the latest changes in regulation and ensuring we communicate well with all the parties involved.

Live schools are often a challenge for any construction project and solar panels are no exception. If work is planned for areas that are in use, then the key is trying to ensure we don’t interfere with day to day school activities. We also need to deal carefully with logistics of deliveries.


Chris also mentions several rules and regulations coming into play, which qualified advisors can assist with. In particular, insurers and the Fire Protection Association have issued RC 62 to tackle the risk of fire associated with panels. These and other considerations need to be taken into account on any PV project.

He talks about the importance of ensuring your systems are working efficiently once installed. The team use a product called “Simble”. This connects a range of ‘Internet of Things’ devices, to provide a one-stop overview of energy performance. The aim is to ensure systems run as efficiently as possible, identifying the benefits of installing PV and other equipment such as low-energy lighting.

The opportunities for reducing energy usage, feeding energy into the grid and benefitting from solar power are set to expand. If you’d like to find out more about how solar power could benefit you and your school or construction project, get in touch today.