A Melbourne girls’ school built two decades ago on an old landfill site – and which has an innovative plan to turn its students into “human generators” – has won $100,000 in the schools’ section of the Zayed Future Energy prize in Abu Dhabi, one of the world’s most prestigious awards.
The Melbourne Girls College, located in Richmond, won the Oceania Schools sections for its plans to use rowing machines to generate electricity and feed it back into the grid, to install a wind turbine, tap into hydro power from the neighbouring Yarra River and extend its solar installation.
The school’s application was based around its frustration with the fact that 85 per cent of the electricity generated in its home state came from brown coal, and its determination to find alternatives and to educate students.
It piloted what it says is a world first program that engages students by literally turning them into human generators with four pedaled powered generators in its gymnasium.
It hopes to use the $100,000 prize money to extend this concept to rowing training machines, and expanding into wind energy, a run of river hydro facility and extending its solar array from 2kW to 52kW.
Sustainability co-ordinator Andrew Vance told RenewEconomy after the awards ceremony in Abu Dhabi that the prize was more about education students and the community about energy.
“We come from a country that has the highest emissions per capita –and it is disappointing that our own government is letting the world down in not making strong commitments to tackling climate change.”
“This prize will help inspire Australian to make changes and see the exciting opportunity in this space.”
The school has 4 bicycle generators in the school gym – so students (and visitors and parents) can generate their own electricity. “We understand pedal power will not replace fossil fuels, but we see this as an opportunity to educate people on what an easy ride we have had on back of fossil fuels and what the true cost of electricity actually is.”
The school is looking to install a new 50kW solar system on awnings on the side of a north-facing three-storey building that will provide shade and power.
The wind installation will be a small 2kW wind turbine – just to demonstrate how wind works. And the fact that the school is on the banks of the Yarra River means it can install a small hydro generator to take advantage of the tidal changes.
“We think we can cut our use of fossil fuels by 50 per cent through these initiatives, but the main thing we want to achieve is behavioural change and realise how much their lifestyle consumes.
Last year, the school challenged students to give up their favourite electronic device for 10 weeks. If they couldn’t manage that, they could jump on the pedal bike generators to make up.
They banned hair straighteners from the Year 8 camp, and installed calculators to show how much various devices consume. They sought sponsorship for every watt saved, and ended up raising $35,000 from the local community that will also help fund the solar program.
The school also ran a moonlight cinema. That required 1.6kWh to operate, so the Year 8 students generated it by hopping on the pedal bikes in shifts and store it in a battery .
Gina Handby, the schools environment captain in 2014, who accepted the award from the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and Egypt president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, said the prize was a reward for the effort it took to engage the students in the project. “It is so fantastic we got recognized for our efforts.,” she said, adding that it was much easier engaging the younger students than the older students.
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