Harvesting the sun’s energy for a brighter future

Issue: Volume 93, Number 9

Posted: 3 June 2014
Reference #: 1H9ctC

Our little school, Clifton Terrace Model School, is nestled on the edge of Wellington’s central business district. What’s our driving force? Well, 70 energetic, energy-efficient Year 1 to 8 students, a handful of sustainable-minded teaching staff and co-principals, and 28 solar panels.

Small but mighty

We can generate up to 40 per cent of our own electricity from our own solar panels (imagine how much electricity we could make if we could bottle the energy of our 70 students). If the businesses in the CBD made the same amount of electricity we did, they might just put the electricity companies out of business.

A Super Solar Award up our short green sleeves

We’re the first school in New Zealand to achieve a Silver Schoolgen Super Solar Award (SSSSA – it’s an acronym that’s actually an onomatopoeia – it makes a sizzling sound). Schoolgen is a comprehensive solar and energy-efficient programme developed by Genesis Energy.

For more information visit the Genesis Energy Schoolgen website(external link).

We take sustainability very seriously

Everyone at Clifton Terrace – Years 1 to 8, teaching staff, and co-principals – has some level of accountability to our Schoolgen commitment and generally creating a sustainable environment.

Schoolgen is an integral part of our ‘School Agreement’. Every year we update our School Agreement with our students. And every year they are adamant that Schoolgen remains included.

Our yellow brick road

Since 2009, we’ve been on a ‘yellow brick road’ to becoming more sustainable. It was started by our teaching staff, especially senior teacher Katrina Laurie, who’s been the driving force behind helping our school achieve the SSSSA.

In addition to educating our students about the importance of renewable energy and taking care of our environment, another reason for implementing the Schoolgen programme was to drive the costs of our electricity down. Electricity costs are variable (as opposed to fixed). A sure-fire way of lowering the cost of electricity is by minimising wasted electricity.

Here’s a breakdown of our process to achieving our SSSSA status:

  • 2009: Clifton Terrace becomes a Schoolgen school
  • 2009: we had 12 (2 kilowatt array) solar panels installed (donated by Genesis Energy)
  • 2010 to 2012: we continued working through the Schoolgen programme towards achieving an award
  • 2013: we became the first school in 
  • New Zealand to achieve a Bronze Schoolgen Super Solar Award
  • 2014: we became the first school in 
  • New Zealand to achieve a Silver Schoolgen Super Solar Award
  • 2014: we had 16 (4 kilowatt array) more solar panels installed as a reward for being the first school to receive the Schoolgen Silver Super Solar Award in New Zealand.

Some of the bright things we do

The process towards becoming a Schoolgen school and achieving an award has been a long but worthwhile process.

As part of the process, we have set up a group of 15 students who power the Schoolgen programme as energy efficiency leaders. Our lead team has created visual reminders beside light switches, computers, and electricity plugs throughout the school to reinforce the ‘switch off when not in use’ message.

An ‘Energy Owl’ position is rotated across the lead team group every three weeks. The Energy Owl has the task of also turning off switches when not in use, speaking about energy efficient initiatives at our school assembly and reporting to the Schoolgen lead team about students they have noticed being energy efficient.

Every two weeks at our school assembly our lead team presents a student with a ‘Sunbeam Award’. This award is given to students who have been spotted by our Energy Owl for being energy efficient on their own.

At our collective school hui, we look at how much energy we’re using on the real time generation data from the Schoolgen’s website. We encourage our students to talk about how they can take action to become more energy efficient.

Our Year 5 to 7 students use the real-time generation data graphs on the Schoolgen website to find out how much electricity we’ve generated and used over a monthly period – in terms of kilowatt consumption. We also capture how much energy we’ve consumed the previous month on a display outside our senior students’ home group classroom. We use this display to encourage energy efficiency thinking.

Students from Years 2 to 4 have created photo stories using Photostory software about being a Schoolgen school. We’ve posted these stories on our school website under the ‘Schoolgen’ tab.

We’ve created two videos packed with energy efficiency tips: Peko the Helpful Pukeko and Super Solar News. These videos were made to help educate our community on the importance of using renewable energy sources. You can watch both these videos under our Schoolgen tab on our website.

Every year we celebrate being a Schoolgen school at our annual Green Day. We use this day to promote energy efficiency, celebrate our knowledge about environmental sustainability, and include science curriculum activities with an energy focus.
We publish articles about our Schoolgen progress in our events newsletter, which goes out to our community. In one of the newsletters, we reported how we achieved our goal of consistently staying below 60kWh of energy consumption a day over 30 consecutive days.

How this powers our students

Our students are very motivated by all the bright things we do around the school. The processes we have implemented started small at first, but they’ve grown over the years to become quite a comprehensive programme. Much more the processes have impacted on schoolwide energy savings.

“It’s very important to be efficient with energy because it’s not going to be there forever. It also impacts on our future and the environment,” says one of our 11-year-old team leaders.

The students’ passion has led the lead team to enter several Schoolgen competitions, including one where they designed an energy-efficient house. They created a working, solar-powered oven, which they tested by toasting chocolate and marshmallows; they won the division.

This learning has also influenced students to discuss energy efficiency at home. Students have recommended ways to cut back on hot water use, and use energy-efficiency heating to their parents.

Another of our 11-year-old team leaders has implemented timed showers within their home.

“My parents are usually excited and happy I’m learning new things and wanting to pass them on,” the 11-year-old says.
Some green tips from our Schoolgen lead team:

  • keep showers to a maximum of four minutes
  • turn the lights off when you leave the room
  • use ‘snake’ door draught stoppers in rooms when you’re heating them.

More information

Go to our website(external link), and click on the Schoolgen tab. You can check out how much energy we’re using and generating here too.

BY Christina Gillmore
Clifton Terrace Model School,

Posted: 8:55 am, 3 June 2014

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