Greenville students analyze solar panels a year after installation

Posted by Kelli Ameling • Last Updated 12:44 pm on Monday, October 24 2011

A high school class at Greenville Public Schools (GPS) is gathering information generated by the school’s solar panels to help prepare for the future.
Brian Sullivan, a biology and natural resources teacher at the high school, took his sixth-hour students on the roof to analyze how the solar panels work.
The panels, manufactured by United Solar Ovonic, were installed as part of the GreenERville project in October of last year.
Sullivan said the students were able to see what the panels looked like, how the panels worked and where the energy went.
Serena Reamer said she was surprised when they got to go on the roof because the solar panels were flat and not angled.
As of Friday, the panels have produced enough energy to run an average single-American home for more than 3,000 days, Sullivan said.
Sullivan said other operations have been looking to GPS for its use of solar panels. He added the students have pride and confidence because the school is becoming a leader in this type of technology.
“We are unique,” he said.

A small energy plant

The solar panels produce the energy and push it back onto the grid, allowing for others in the community to be able to use it, Sullivan said describing the school as a small energy plant.
Shelby Jenks said she was impressed with how much money the school is able to make once the 13- to 15-year loan is paid off. The solar panels have been guaranteed to last about 25 years, leaving about a 10-year window for the school to be profitable.
Sullivan said GPS generates energy at 10-cents a kilowatt, while Consumers Energy buys it for 40-cents a kilowatt. This gave the school over a $65,000 credit on their bill for this year.
Megan Altizer said this kind of money is important for the school because of what it can do.
“It will pay for one teacher’s salary,” Altizer said. “It would save a teacher.”
Michael Voorhees said the money would also do a lot of the school like purchasing computers, software, projectors and more.
Currently, Sullivan said only 10 percent of GPS’s roof is covered with the solar panels, but in the future, the schools hopes to have 100 percent covered.
He added the solar panels do not generate more power than is being used it still produces energy through rain, snow and even in the dark.
“It seems to be worth it to me,” Sullivan said.

Real-world applications

Through this assignment, the students are learning alternative ways to save money.
Sullivan demonstrated a solar panel that can heat water. He also came up with an idea of putting something like that in an attic where it is naturally warmer and have water run through it before entering into the water heater. This would raise the temperature of the water and would use less energy.
Logan Weber demonstrated to the class how a solar panel slow cooker works. He said it could cook anything and works off the sun’s rays.
“(The students) love it,” Sullivan said of the work they are doing with the solar panels. “They are able to use real-world applications and not be stuck in a chair at a desk.”
Tyler Schnepp said he wished there were more classes like this.
“Hands on is better,” he said. “It helps students catch on quicker.”
Brenda Hilliker agreed with Schnepp and said she enjoys the fact that the students are not just watching something, they are doing it.
“I have learned a lot from the class,” she said.
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