Pre-College Programs

Improving School Energy Efficiency

From the Leadership Institute Symposium on Social Change

Author: Nathaniel Greenwold

In short, my action plan was designed to put solar panels on my school and to eventually send a proportion of the money saved to a sustainable energy project in Marymount, Nigeria, where a solar PV unit has already been set up, however the project lacks sufficient maintenance funds to be a long-term energy solution for Marymount’s local community.

Along with Alessandro Ceretti, my partner in my action plan, I have aimed to improve both my local community, and eventually the wider world, thus in my view, consequentially the action plan will fulfill the aims set out by the Leadership program, which I was told was to create social change in an area that ties in with the themes in the course that I participated in during last summer.

In terms of the local community, my action plan is aimed at primarily improving the energy efficiency of my school, given that at the moment it seems that my school has not shown many initiatives in this area. However there is a bigger picture. My school, the City of London School (Queen Victoria Street) is located in the central core of London, and also has a great reputation for leading by example. As a result when devising my action plan, the aim was that not only would I improve my school’s energy resources and output, but also my school would become a pioneer for other schools to eventually follow suit, as they would see City as an example of how energy efficiency can be incorporated, even in the most urban areas, and still have positive results.

On a wider, more long-term scale, the aim of the project was to eventually expand the project from the local community to the wider world by incorporating Nigeria into the project. Having studied a solar energy project in Marymount as part of my geography course two years ago, I found out that the area had been provided with a solar panel PV cell, however could not maintain it, I felt that ideally I could eventually use the money created by the reduction in my school’s energy prices, to send a significant proportion of money to Nigeria on a regular basis, thus allowing the project to continue and the area to flourish on an eventually self-sufficient basis.

In terms of societal problems, I am trying to show my local community the importance and the value of energy efficiency, because in this day and age in the west I feel that it is very easy to be wasteful and ignorant regarding the value of energy. In our society we lack care when it comes to how we use electricity, food, water and many other components of our daily lives. By creating and completing this project I hope to address this problem on an initially small scale (my city and school), but eventually large scale (Nigeria and the third world) as people will see that the smallest of changes to our routines and behavior, such as using water only when we need it, not leaving lights on, and even putting social panels on buildings, can make a massive difference in areas of abject poverty.

In my view, raising awareness about the issues I am combating through my project itself is my strategy, by introducing solar panels to my local area, which otherwise has few ongoing energy efficiency initiatives, I am hoping to raise awareness about my project and inspire other people as I have been inspired to help their local community and the third world through energy saving initiatives. As I have already stated, due to my schools location and reputation I think that raising awareness will be facilitated by the institution itself, however I am hoping to contact the Prince’s Trust with a view to inviting Prince Charles to unveil the project, which would give this field of development projects (solar energy) a huge boost and would be the ultimate way to raise awareness about what Alessandro and I have been doing. That said, such a visit is very unlikely and difficult to organize, but it is an aim of the project that is incorporated in my strategy of raising awareness to deal with this issue in our society all the same. I will also involve more members of my school and get the students and faculty to help Alessandro and I in creating publicity for the project and making ourselves available to help others if they like our idea and would like to do a similar one in their local, and eventually wider community.

In terms of reaching our goal of putting solar panels on our school, the first phase of our project (the second being our eventual work in Nigeria), we have made considerable progress in two main areas: convincing faculty and finding a company to work with us. In terms of convincing the faculty at our school, we have already spoken with the Vice-Principal of our school, made him aware of what it is that we are trying to do, and he has agreed to listen to our pitch when we are ready. Both before, since and with the help of the symposium which we both attended in November, we have both been working on a master document, writing notes from the symposium and only now have we written the contents page and the first few pages of the final document (which I will both attach in an email and send by hard copy), which has proved to be a lengthy process on top of our A Level work, for which we have exams in a few weeks time. With this document, we hope to give the faculty at our school absolutely no way in which they can reject the project, by covering the main issues of cost, aesthetics, and the eventual location of these panels. This is where the company has come in.

Having spent hours on the net, searching for viable options in terms of companies to work with us by supplying the panels themselves and installing them, we were eventually successful. We found three main possibilities, The Solar Trade Association, who proved impossible to contact, The Carbon Trust, who told us that they would not be able to help us with the project itself but would send someone from their team to look around our school and show us areas in which we can make our school more energy efficient in terms of the bulbs in our lamps, the amount of electricity we use etc. this could prove hugely helpful as it would mean that when the panels are eventually installed, their reduction of our energy bill will cover more of our energy bill than it would have without the help of The Carbon Trust, thus this company will provide us with the possibility of eventually making our school’s main energy supply solar energy, which in my view would be a ground-breaking achievement. The third and final company was Solar4Schools, which proved to be the most successful of the three. We called the company and pitched our idea to them, they liked it and since then we have been in close contact with various members of the company, who are otherwise known as Solar Century. In the past few months we have done a desktop survey with them in which they have provided us with hugely successful cost and time projections for the project (which I will also attach) and have also organized a meeting in person to go through our aims from the project with a view to making a full commitment to working with them on the project. However this project really does mean a lot to us, therefore we feel it is essential to make sure that our aims are recognized by the company and appreciated, so that we can get the best results and realize our vision. This company will be able to give us a package, which will allow us to avoid having to fork out huge sums of money, as if we follow their plan, then the solar panels will eventually pay for themselves. This is a long-term scheme, however the fact that it has the potential of being self-sufficient makes it more feasible. Also, as with the symposium, this company will be able to provide us with experience and specialist advice from past project that they have done which is really ideal for us. The meeting is organized to take place in the upcoming weeks.

At this point in our project Alessandro and I have spoken a lot about branching out the project, however in this early stage we feel that it is best that we work as a pair for now, at least until the school has agreed to pursue the project. This is because we want to write the master document ourselves as we both attended Summer@Brown and the Symposium, both of which taught us a lot about our project and thus we feel it would take too long to update any new members about the project for it to be worth our time at this point. We also don’t want to expand before we have made more significant steps to ensuring that the project comes to fruition. Thus, at the moment it is only Alessandro and I who are working directly on the project, having said that we are in close contact with Peter Vamplew from the aforementioned Solar4Schools, he is working with us on the installment plans for the panels. We have also been in talks with some members of the Carbon Trust (the roles of both companies have already been mentioned in question 3). We hope to eventually create a team once the project is well under way in order to support our workload and delegate it at least to a certain degree as at the moment the project has proved exceptionally time-consuming on top of our school work.

For me this project has proved to be a fantastic experience. It has taught me many skills. Firstly, it has opened my eyes to the fact that a small amount of work can go a long way (obviously this is all relative). I think that whilst it seems like a lot of work now with regards to the hours that Alessandro and I have put in, the potential for it to change the lives of many members of the community of Marymount and also to kick start an energy efficiency initiative in London has really demonstrated this lesson to me. Furthermore, this project has given me one of my first experiences of being genuinely inspired, by partaking in this project I have found that I’m not bothered by having to spend a long time writing about it and pursuing otherwise mundane matters, such as contacting companies and writing e-mails asking for support. In fact, during the majority of my work on the project I have enjoyed myself and have learned a lot about the need for perseverance and the value of speaking up when you have new ideas, as I hope will be recognized by the final project’s eventual success. The project has also brought out the leadership qualities in my personality as whilst working with a partner and other companies, one has to make compromises however this project has shown me that I can follow my instincts and pursue a vision without getting side-tracked too much, which has really helped me not only in this project itself, but in motivating myself for my studies at school. Finally this project has given me a much better insight into what it takes to pursue and get a result out of a large-scale project, before when I saw ongoing projects of any kind, such as construction for the London 2012 Olympics, or even the charity fundraising projects which I partake in at school, I never appreciated just how much work must be put in with respect to planning and logistics, this project has provided a first hand experience in this field, and has resultantly improved my ability to see the bigger picture, which in a working environment is fundamental.

Due to the fact that Alessandro and myself have made sure that our project has not branched out to quickly, I must admit that our project’s effect on others is relatively limited, however, those with whom we have shared our ideas have seemed affected in one way or another. With regards to my vice-principal, although he still hasn’t found out everything about the project, I believe that it has shown him that students can go that extra mile with extra-curricular activities, and even in this day and age are still interested in helping others around them, despite the selfish nature of the stereotypical 21st century teenager. I believe that we have also had an effect on Mr. Vamplew because it would appear that he has not done a lot of work with students in the past, instead mainly with faculty, and that our project has and hopefully will demonstrate to him that working with students is a viable option for these types of projects, thus inspiring him to advertise the company to students (as well as faculty). Finally I think that my mum has been somewhat affected by the work I have been doing on this project ever since Brown, I would like to think that it has made her understand the potential of solar energy (having explained to her all of my ideas) in the modern world, but also has shown her how motivated I can be when I am inspired.

As I have already spoken of, our time at Brown, meeting students who have already been through what we are going through with our project, and our time with experienced faculty have provided us with a real motivation to keep trying and a knowledge that eventually the project can fructify with sufficient car on where we concentrate our efforts. I also think that the fact that we have been working together on the project as a pair, has proved to be hugely motivational as whenever one of us is busy, the other can work on it, and vice-versa, furthermore when we have both been busy with work, we have called each other up to motivate one and other and keep the inspiration going so that we did not lose our momentum with the project. Also, naturally with schoolwork the project’s time span has almost tripled, which I must say would have discouraged me to an extent, however the fact that we were both going through the same struggle is a big reason why we are still persevering as much in the project. Finally, I believe that the biggest motivation has come from the power that this project gives us to change people’s lives, the knowledge that if we are successful that we could provide a whole community in Nigeria with sufficient energy to improve their standard of living and quality of life, the sheer potential of the project has really blown my mind, and has honestly made me carry on when otherwise I would have stopped working on it. I believe that this inspiration came directly from Moshi Herman’s class on Leadership and Global Development in which I learned the value of western influence in terms of aid to the third world, and also the ways in which to give it without being too intrusive.

The symposium was fundamental for our project, as I hope can be seen from the notes (which will also be attached) simply because it provided us with some great advice from experienced faculty at Brown and students who have gone down the same road as us. We were allowed to present our ideas and problems and get direct feedback that was specialized to our project, and new strategies to combat our difficulties. It also gave us the chance to establish many more contacts as help points for our work. That weekend was the real turning point in showing us that it actually can be done and that we had contacts within Brown who would help us along the way. Furthermore, at the end of the symposium, being put into contact with Preston Kemeny, someone who had already been successful in an Action Plan, was a real boost for our project and us. With Preston we have been having regular Skype calls with two other students, this has kept up our motivation, kept up the link with Brown and us and finally provided a permanent source of advice for our project in terms of short-term problems, which has been essential in moving the project along.

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