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Irish schools are harnessing solar power and smart tech to measure energy use

Key Points
  • The deployment of renewable energy technologies on educational buildings is not unique to the Republic of Ireland.
  • In other countries, authorities are turning to a range of innovations and ideas to boost the sustainability of school and college buildings. 
Naoise Culhane

Microsoft's Irish unit is working with a utility firm on a renewable energy scheme that will involve the installation of internet-connected solar panels on the rooftops of schools in the country. 

The project, with SSE Airtricity — a green energy provider and subsidiary of Scotland's SSE — encompasses 27 schools spread across the Irish provinces of Leinster, Munster and Connaught.

In an announcement Monday, SSE Airtricity said internet of things technology would be harnessed to connect the panels to a cloud computing platform from Microsoft. Within the schools, digitally connected screens have been set up to let pupils follow energy usage information in real time.   

An investment of nearly 1 million euros ($1.17 million) from the Microsoft Sustainability Fund will fund the program.

While the installation of solar panels will help the schools to offset carbon dioxide emissions, there is a wider aspect at play that could have consequences further afield.

In its statement, SSE Airtricity said the software tools would be used to "aggregate and analyze real-time data on energy generated by the solar panels."

This, it added, would demonstrate "a mechanism for Microsoft and other corporations to achieve sustainability goals and reduce the carbon footprint of the electric power grid."

The use of renewable energy technologies on buildings designed for education is not unique to the Republic of Ireland.

Earlier this year, Norwegian firm Veidekke was tasked by the city of Oslo to build an energy-efficient, solar-paneled school in Norway.

According to Veidekke, the school — which is set to cover around 14,000 square meters and is slated to be finished before the 2023 academic year begins — will have solar panels on both its façades and roof.

Over in the U.K., the University of Plymouth is one of many institutions to use a Building Management System, or BMS, to both monitor and control things like lighting and the energy used by devices in its buildings.

According to the institution, its BMS "controls 95 percent of our campus buildings, ensuring intelligent control of the building systems to make sure there's no energy waste."

The development of sustainable learning environments is not solely reliant on tech, either. In 2019, a 200-foot long "green pollution barrier" was installed at an elementary school in Sheffield, northern England. The idea behind the BREATHE barrier, as it's known, is to act as an air pollution filter from road traffic.