Hands-on clean energy education at Two Harbors High School

The future looks bright for Two Harbors High School students! The installation of solar panels has created a unique educational opportunity for both students and the local community as solar energy is implemented in science and math curricula across the school.

Enthusiasm for this project came more from educational purposes than from measureable, energy-saving potential. The opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable energy education are now numerous at Two Harbors High School.

Firstly, solar panels are very visible to the community, situated between the school building and the athletic fields, hopefully gaining attention of community members and visitors alike. Energy monitoring is accessible to students so that they can gather data for math and science classes, and Bluetooth Technology also transfers data from the panels into classrooms.

Jamie Juenemann, a collaborator from the Silver Creek Institute, recognizes the importance of such resources: “Having a renewable energy system on-site as an integrated learning station spurs creative thought among students and will lead some to choose a path in the growing field of renewable energy technology development.”

In order to help teachers integrate these resources into their curricula, Silver Creek Institute wrote a pamphlet describing how electricity is made from the sun’s energy and the environmental benefits of solar energy. Silver Creek Institute also developed activities for the classroom and compiled additional online resources. Juenemann explains, “Simply getting people comfortable with the idea that renewable energy is productive and reliable will further reinforce the need and desire to keep moving forward with clean energy ideas and projects.”

Case Study

In 2004, a group of clean energy supporters brought the idea of installing solar panels at the Two Harbors High School to the district’s school board. Initially, little support was shown, and the idea was put on the back burner for about four years. After the school board elected new members, there was more enthusiasm for the project.

A few years later, board members found the project a worthwhile investment, not so much because of the energy generation of the panels, which would be minimal in proportion to the school’s energy demands, but rather because of the huge education opportunities that would accompany the panels. In 2007, the project began to move forward.

The educational component of the project has remained central throughout the entire process. Monitoring was installed and displayed in such a way that students can collect data to do math and science problems in the classroom. Additionally, energy monitoring consequently raises awareness on energy usage, encouraging students to use less energy in their school and at home.

“Having a renewable energy system on site as an integrated learning station spurs creative thought among students and will lead some to choose a path in the growing field of renewable energy technology development,” explains Jamie Juenemann from Silver Creek Institute, a collaborator on the project.

After much planning and contacting local contractors, manufacturers, and installers, the school decided to install sixteen 180-watt Kyocera KD180GX-LP panels mounted on a Wattsun AZ-225 automated dual-axis tracker. The output of the 16 solar panels is fed as a series string into a grid tied Xantrex 2.8kW inverter. The array site includes a digital display of instantaneous and cumulative electricity output.

To make the panels as visible as possible to the community, they have been placed between the high school and the athletic fields. This way, visitors will easily the school’s dedication to clean energy. Production data from the panels is on a kiosk display there, as well as in the classrooms made available through Bluetooth Technology.

To help teachers identify ways to incorporate the energy data from the solar panel into the classroom, Silver Creek Institute wrote a pamphlet for teachers explaining how electricity is made from the sun’s energy, and how solar energy translates into carbon reduction from the atmosphere. Silver Creek Institute’s materials also offer activities for the classroom, such as tracking sun patterns, as well as additional online resources for teachers. Students have enjoyed using new curriculum and activities associated with the solar panels since it was installed.

“This project will have far reaching and lasting positive effects within the Two Harbors community as a demonstration of the potential of clean, renewable energy technologies to solve our current and future energy needs,” says Juenemann. “Schools are in an excellent position to use renewable energy technologies as a multi-disciplinary learning tool to discuss the economic, social and environmental impacts of continued dependence on fossil fuels as an energy source.”

When speaking of the results of this project, Juenemann replied with enthusiasm: “The primary success is that during the course of four years so many people came together to make such a complicated project actually happen. It’s simply amazing. And now that it is completed, the school and community are now realizing the benefits of the project, particularly in the area of renewable energy education. Simply getting people comfortable with the idea that renewable energy is productive and reliable will further reinforce the need and desire to keep moving forward with more clean energy ideas and projects.”

With the expected expansion of the renewable energy industry in the near future, Juenemann believes having a renewable energy system on site will provide students the opportunity to explore the growing fields of research and manufacturing first hand, giving them an advantage as they further their education.

Project Snapshot

Purpose: To install a solar photovoltaic system that produces energy and offers a hands on educational opportunity .

Benefits: Students learn about renewable energy technology with a real example at school. Students use the energy production data in many different classes.

Technology: Sixteen 180-watt Kyocera KD180GX-LP solar PV panels mounted on a Wattsun AZ 225 automated dual-axis tracker and tied into a Xantrex 2.8kW inverter.

Grants: $5,000 from NE CERT, $4,000 from Cooperative Light and Power, $500 from Clover Valley Community, $5,600 from Minnesota Department of Commerce, $7,500 from Northeastern Minnesota Sustainable Development Partnerships, $500 from Two Harbors EnviroClub

Total Cost: $37,353

About the Local Government Energy Action Series:

This effort tells the stories of Minnesota municipalities, counties, and schools and the tangible results of their energy-saving efforts to inspire others to take their own actions. 

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