A tiny regional school tucked away in bushland in South Australia’s south-east is hoping to become a model for sustainable living with a 100 per cent solar-powered trout farm.
Kangaroo Inn Area School, about 40km north of Millicent, has begun a major renewable energy project that will see its students construct solar panels to be attached to a battery storage pack, and run pumps that currently recirculate water through the fish farm.
Fish waste is absorbed by pots of watercress, which are irrigated while cleaning the water so it can be returned to the tank.
Science teacher Tom Davidson said the operation would be much more environmentally sustainable under the change to solar power, which is also expected to cut energy costs for the school.
“We’re really hoping that putting it all on solar power will empower the students, in that we’re actually accountable for producing fish and vegetables but with no carbon offset,” he said.
“There is a small energy expenditure through pumps, but they are persistent in that they’re on 24/7.
“We’re hopeful that with the correct positioning of solar panels and a battery capacity … all irrigation and all pump circulation of water will be entirely run off solar power.
Two teenage boys and a girl sitting at a school desk looking over a solar panel.
“I would estimate that over the course of a year we would [save] hundreds if not thousands of dollars.”
The Reception-Year 12 school of just 98 students has won a $20,000 grant through the South Australian Government’s STEM Career Development Fund, as part of a broader move towards sustainability.
Home-grown worms more energy efficient
The school will also experiment with changing the fish feed from commercial pellets to worms raised onsite in a home-made worm farm — a more energy efficient product.
“The pelletised feed is made from other fish proteins and in some cases it takes 5 kilos of fish protein to be converted into 1 kilo of growth, which is obviously not ideal,” Mr Davidson said.
“We’re looking to trial worms and see if we can achieve good growth rates from feeding them products that we can actually grow here.”
Students are using a solar-powered dehydrator to preserve potatoes and kale from their school vegetable garden, which they eventually hope to sell at markets or donate to charity.
A dark-haired teenage boy with folded arms leaning over an old blue bath tub containing a sanding tool and orange ear-muffs.
Mr Davidson said the project was a practical way to make students aware of their carbon footprint, and why they should care about reducing it.
“Irrefutably, renewable energy is going to be something that’s on their discussion for the foreseeable future,” he said.
“I think overall they are just enjoying doing things with their hands.
“Rather than fidget with a mobile phone, they can fidget with plants and feed fish and do things that are actually learning opportunities.”
Inspiring STEM careers
Mr Davidson said students were also being exposed to a range of career opportunities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) fields through the project.
“I’ve seen a few take real interest in aquaculture. They love fish and they kind of connect with it immediately,” he said.
“There’s others that take interest in the actual construction of solar cells, and they’re really keen on soldering and on using technology to power something.
“[When the solar panels are installed] the students can work alongside the professional electricians getting practical knowledge on how to rig up panels, how to wire things to inverters and batteries, and really learn some of the trade skills that will likely take them places.”
A teacher in a blue shirt stands behind an old bathtub with three students in school uniform.
Year 10 student Dallas Skeer said he had always been interested in engineering, but the project had inspired him to think more about renewable energy.
“In the future I’m probably going to look towards solar power and do something in my future house or my shed [with renewable energy],” he said.
“It’s probably been the funnest thing in my whole high school.
“You learn so much designing the projects and then when you get the end result it just feels so good.”