Monday, April 16, 2012

Students Invested in School’s Solar Energy

Ryan Markham, a middle school student intent on saving the environment, is impressed by solar power. On his way from lunch to class, he scans a flat display monitor, seeking real-time updates about the energy produced by panels on the school roof.
Student Ryan Markham stands next to a monitor that shows
data on the energy produced by panels on the school roof.

“I like saving the environment. I like that we are conserving energy,’’ said Ryan, 13, an established recycler who is now mastering a new environmental arena.

At Norwell Middle School, renewable resources are a hot topic. Students are developing personal interest in energy technologies, a curiosity triggered by their growing awareness of a flank of solar panels installed on the left wing of the school last summer. The project, which was funded by a $150,000 grant from the Department of Energy Resources, is part of a statewide clean-energy initiative.

Now a series of demonstrations, experiments, and opportunities to interact with the solar project have created excitement at the school. In classrooms, students will soon be using solar cells to power fans and lightbulbs, and an after-school science group plans to power a toy solar car.

Students will also be building miniature wind turbines and solar houses, a hands-on means of learning about alternative energy sources and climate change. All of this is creating buzz at the school, where curious young people have been gathering in front of a central hallway monitor for updates on the solar project.

“I really like to check the monitor to find out how much energy is being created and what objects can be run with it. I look at it every day,’’ said Ryan, pointing as the screen flashed the number of hypothetical hairdryers and laptop computers powered by the day’s solar energy intake.

The school is using a solar photovoltaic module, or PV system, that converts solar radiation into electricity, an output reliant on the position and strength of the shining sun.

They track energy production, weather conditions, and the position of the sun in the sky via a popular display system, one of several learning tools supplied by Broadway Renewable Strategies, the electrical company that installed the 53.76kW photovoltaic system.

“The students like to come out and look at the monitor to see where the sun is in the sky. It gives them that perspective about where it is rising and setting,’’ said Chris Bailey, Green Team coordinator and a science teacher at the school.

The school is learning to tap the depth of possibilities offered by this solar project, according to Bailey. She said the project offers engaging material on alternate energy cultivation, but also astronomy and global climate.

“This project is a fabulous teaching tool for so many science topics. It is also creating enthusiasm and helping students to think about alternate energy sources,’’ said Bailey.

She said the solar project is accessible for students; they really do love the flat panel monitor with its easy-to-read graphs and weather information.

Principal Derek Sulc recently stood in front of the monitor, noting its growing popularity. “This thing right here is creating a lot of interest,’’ he said.

“If this project encourages students to be more interested in science or do something to help the environment, it had a benefit,’’ Sulc added.

Jessica Foster, 13, said she enjoys tracking the solar project as part of the Green Team. “We are all working together to improve the environment,’’ she said.

The entire school was involved in a January ceremony to celebrate the solar project, which culminated with students from all grades peppering invited experts with questions about solar energy.

“The kids actually wanted to stay and ask more questions. They were invested,’’ said Lawrence M. Hurwitz, chief executive officer of Broadway Renewable Strategies.

The project, which will reduce the school’s energy costs by about 15 percent annually, offers a “great teachable moment’’ about how solar power works, according to Mark Sylvia, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources.

“It will create enthusiasm about the clean energy field,’’ he said.


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