Dr. Paul Browning ABC Radio Interview

by ABC Breakfast with Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan

Start of Interview: 2:21:06
Broadcast: Tuesday 18th June 2019, 5:00 am
ABC Breakfast with Craig Zonca and Loretta Ryan

Craig Zonca: How much can solar panels really save you?

Craig Zonca: In the case of a local Brisbane school, a system of more than 1800 solar panels has cut the power bill from about $500,000 to less than $250 000 – That’s huge.

Loretta Ryan: Dr. Paul Browning is the principal of St Pauls School. Now you say you have more solar panels than any other school in Brisbane. Is it paying dividends?

Dr. Paul Browning: Well that’s what we’re led to believe. We installed these panels last year, and they’re up and running now. So, we’re looking forward to seeing what the actual results are. But, we’re led to believe it is the largest array of panels on any school, in perhaps even Queensland, maybe even Australia.

Craig: So, you’re talking about big savings on your power bill, but what’s the breakeven point? How much did this system cost?

Paul: Well, we took a couple of years to actually research the system. There’s a lot of solar installators out there, and we met with quite a number of companies over the last three years. Those companies came with all sorts of promises, and they couldn’t guarantee me that their promises would come to fruition. Questions like how long will these panels actually last? [“Yeah” from Craig Zona] Are they guaranteed to last more than 10 or 15 years? Will we actually get the savings? And these companies couldn’t tell us. But the company we landed upon actually spent about 3 to 6 months researching for us. They put on monitors across all our electrical boxes around the school. And they actually assessed our usage, and then they designed a system that would actually meet our needs, match our daily usage. Because being a school obviously, we’re using most of our power during the day. [“Course” from Craig Zonca]. We’re using most of our power during the summer months when we’ve got air conditioners running. So, they designed a system to match that and came up with a system of over 1800 solar panels and installed that. Immediate savings were actually made when they actually said to us, “you’re actually on the wrong tariff. We can save you about 90,000 thousand dollars by changing just the tariff.” So, we changed the tariff and made an immediate saving of nearly $100,000, which was remarkable.

Craig: So, that’s even before you turn the panels on?

Paul: Exactly. So, now we’ve got the panels on, we’re hoping to see our electricity bill cut by even more than half, which will be great.

Loretta: Well, how’s it going that power consumption?

Paul: Bizarre story really, the array was completed just before March this year, and then I don’t know if you remember we had a big storm come through and lightning struck the panel system and took it out. So, we haven’t actually been able to see the full extent of savings. So, this coming month we’ll actually see the full extent of the savings.

Craig: Gee, so, just your luck when you’ve spent so much time getting the right system and then a lightning strike comes in just as you’re about to switch it all on. So, I’m just trying to figure out the breakeven point here, are you looking at 4-5 years, something like that?

Paul: They tell us 6 to 7 years breakeven. That’s actually a pretty good breakeven period of time. So, we’ll be making money off it essentially in 6 to 7 years. It will have paid for itself. We’ll be doing really well.

Craig: So, is this the answer to all schools? Because there’s been lots of talk about air conditioning classrooms – whether being in the private sector like you are or in the public sector and then the cost of running those air cons and other systems at the schools with rising power bills – Is solar the answer in your mind Paul Browning?

Paul: We spent a lot of time, as I said, researching. And I believe, yes, it is the answer.

When you’ve got a bill for power reaching nearly half a million dollars, that’s an extraordinary amount, a huge amount, of money. It pays for 4-5 teachers. So, wouldn’t you be better off spending that money on teachers in the classroom or resources for the kids than electricity? So, yes, in my mind, solar on schools is a really good solution. Because again, you know, schools are open during the day, they’re not open during the night.

Craig: And that research about where power’s being used, has that also then changed the power consumption at the school. Are there more energy efficient things that you’re doing?

Paul: The really interesting thing about this array of panels is that they use an interesting piece of technology. I think it’s called solar to the edge. So, each panel, all 1800 panels, are actually individually monitored. So, they can redistribute the power, or they can see when there’s a panel that’s not working. And again, huge efficiencies using that particular piece of technology.

Loretta: The next thing’s to teach the children exactly what’s happening here, why we’re doing this. Do they know?

Paul: They know that there’s a huge array of panels on the roof. And we’ll have a system when it’s up and going this month, that they can log on and actually see what’s being used and what’s being produced and balance that out. So, yes, they will learn a lot from that. We’re very passionate about our environment and taking care of our environment. So, we’ve taken lots of initiatives to be sustainable as a school.

Loretta: That’s really good.

Craig: Talking about it slashing your power bill by half, a big expense to start with but paying off within 6-7 years is what you’re looking at, Paul thanks for dropping by this morning.

Paul: Great, thank you very much.

Craig: Dr. Paul Browning, who is the headmaster of St Pauls School at Bald Hills.

End of Interview: 2:25:56

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