Interview - Bill Holland

Interview: Dr. Bill Holland, environmentalist, scientist and social entrepreneur
(Credit: ABC Stateline - transcript of report, reporter - Sharon O'Neill) -
3rd August 2007

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Still on energy sources, it started as an idea by a teenage boy to solar power his bedroom. It could well be the beginning of schools across the state becoming solar power stations.

Sharon O'Neill reports.

CHRISSIE HOLLAND: Can everyone come and get ready for lunch?

SHARON O'NEILL: Meet the Holland family. For years they had a dream that they would one day live in a house which was running completely on solar energy. Two years ago, they moved to the Northern Beaches of Sydney and into a house with a large north-facing roof.

BILL HOLLAND: I couldn't justify not doing anything any longer so we just went straight in to do it, it was so easy.

SHARON O'NEILL: The family's inspiration came from 16 year-old Armand who at 14 decide he wanted to solar power his bedroom.

ARMAND HOLLAND: This is the switchboard which controls everything that is going on. This is the regulator that controls the power coming down from the roof into the batteries. It keeps the batteries charged. The battery's capacity is about two kilowatt hours. That means that I can run the computer for about eight hours for example. I could leave the lights on for two or three days if there was a blackout. All the batteries are down here.

BILL HOLLAND: He said, "Dad, when are you going to do the whole house?" And I kept saying "well I will do the whole house, it is just a matter of getting the finance together". But needless to say, the finance just didn't come, so at the end of last year I just took the plunge, borrowed the whole amount of money and did the house in 3.46 kilowatt array of photo-volcaic cells, 28 130 watt cells. So now the whole house is running on solar. We feed back to the grid anything we don't need.

SHARON O'NEILL: But the Hollands dream to become completely carbon neutral didn't stop at home.

If a simple household could run off solar, why not a school? Why not a whole community?

BILL HOLLAND: My wife had a real vision to see all the schools in Australia running on solar and I likewise soon came around to that thought too. For years, that has been our desire to see all the schools run on solar because schools have a really good opportunity. For a start, you've got 12 weeks a year when there is nobody there where they can be producing electricity and channelling back into the grid and earning money. Anyway, we've always wanted to do that and so when it came to Pittwater, when we moved to this area, after we got our house done, we went straight to the principal there. We told him what we wanted to do and he was... he said I am right with you. That's where we are at.

ROSS CUSWORTH, PRINCIPAL OF PITTWATER HIGH: I was really excited. We've actually developed an environmental statement and that is actually a medium to long-term goal of the school that we have a zero ecological footprint.

SHARON O'NEILL: For Ross Cussworth, principal of Pittwater High School, the Holland's idea couldn't have come at a better time.

The school has just recently set up an environmental action group as part of the student council. Now the principal is keen to combine the school's solar project as part of the curriculum.

STUDENT: I think another thing we can do is after hours at night time and stuff there are still lights around the perimeter of the school. If we just turn them off, that would save a heap.

SHARON O'NEILL: But turning Pittwater High School into a solar power station is an ambitious and expensive goal.

In the first instance, Ross Cussworth says, the school must reduce its energy use to make the project achievable.

ROSS CUSSWORTH: At the moment we are using something like 1,800 KW hours of energy a day. On average it is 1,000 KW hours a day when we spread across the whole year. That compares to the average household of about 15 to 20 of KW use a day. So we went in to reduce that to reduce that down to zero eventually just though improved energy practices, wiser use of our energy, turning lights off, maybe getting light sensitive lights, better standard, higher technology levels of compact fluorescent lights. We are having to reduce that by about ten per cent.

SHARON O'NEILL: The school is aiming to reduce its energy use to around 600 KW per day. But to provide enough solar power for that energy usage would still require the instillation of 1,000 solar panels. The total cost, $1.5 million.

BILL HOLLAND: We are not going to do ravel tickets for the next 100 years because that's what it would take to do it. We've planned to talk to companies and we've had success with that. We say to them, "look, you want to offset your carbon emissions? The way you can go about it is maybe not planting trees - believe me we're all for planting trees, but if you plant a tree, it could be years and years before you see a great difference to the environment." Here, if they come on board with a project like this, we can immediately see something happening.

TONY SUTTON, OWNER WOVEN IMAGE: I thought it was great. It is a local project which is obviously something always appealing. The thing that I thought was the best part of it was that it's very bold to try and convert a school into an energy neutral environment that has the ability to possibility put electricity back into the grid is a fantastic idea.

SHARON O'NEILL: Tony Sutton is the owner of Woven Image, a commercial textile wholesale business in Warriewood just a few kilometres away from Pittwater High School.

His company has been environmentally conscious for many years and currently supports a large Landcare program which will see a thousand trees planted this year. He is now keen to put some financial support into the Pittwater High solar project.

TONY SUTTON: We will continue to plant trees because I think you need to do both things, but putting solar into a school is an immediate fix. It reduces their electrical requirements straightaway, so that's a great thing. And as I said, it's local so we would be great in the environment in a local sense by being here, so to be able to put something back into the local environment is a positive thing.

BILL HOLLAND: In the coming months, that's what I intend to do. Chrissie, my wife and Linda, we are hoping to visit a lot of companies. We've got a lot of lists together.

SHARON O'NEILL: Regular meetings between the school, the local community environment group, Climate Action Pittwater and local business are now taking place to push ahead with their plans.

TONY SUTTON: The fact that it was a local community action, it wasn't a government-sponsored thing or wasn't being forced upon them was the bit that was most attractive. It was a small group of people who were trying to make a big difference and that's the thing that is the most attractive, I think.

BILL HOLLAND: In the next few months or years, companies are still going to be using fossil fuel and they will have to offset their carbon emissions. We could, with the amount of finance available already that has been channelled into other projects, if that was channelled into schools, we could potentially do every school in New South Wales over a period of time by using up the company's offsets.

ROSS CUSSWORTH: We want to show all of the state that schools and young people particularly who will be the people who have to deal with the climate change when it does occur, the two or three degrees in the next 20 or 30 years, they will have to be the ones that live and make... live with the decisions that we make today. So it's really important that our whole community, not just Pittwater High, is able to be an example of what can be done.


Bill Holland

Pittwater High School Solar Power Station

Solar Power

Environmentalists and the environment



Pittwater High School Solar Power Station