New Bern High School Selected For Solar Panel Pilot Project

Nov 17, 2015

NC GreenPower plans to install a small 3-5 kW solar PV array at awarded schools, equipped with monitoring equipment that will send data to a website for students to use in classroom lessons.
Credit NC GreenPower

A new statewide pilot program is giving students an opportunity to learn hands on about renewable energy.   New Bern High is one of four schools across North Carolina that received a grant to construct a 5kW solar panel system on site.  Earth and Environmental Science Teacher Sandy Parker applied for the grant in Spring of this year and found out three months later that they had received funding.

“When I first applied I thought, well, someone has to win those panels.  It might as well be us and New Bern High School.  So I was really excited and then came the realization that we had to raise $13,000 in funds to help with that installation costs.”

There’s still about $4,000 that has to be raised before the array can be installed.  But the plan is to mount several solar photovoltaic panels to an eight foot high pole in front of the high school.  The panels, measuring 8 feet by 20 feet, will generate enough electricity to power the average home in eastern North Carolina.  But as far as the school’s energy needs, Parker says it will only produce enough energy to power the school’s main office.

“It’s a drop in the bucket for what we use at New Bern High School.  We’ll generate about $700 worth of electricity per year, our school on the other hand uses about $1800 per month.”

The solar panels are more useful as an educational tool than as a power source.  Principal at New Bern High Jerry Simmons says the project falls in line with the school’s ongoing efforts of cutting costs and energy usage and

“This is especially appealing to me in a time when obviously our budget are as limited as they are, again just making sure we are being as responsible as we can be.”

The Solar Schools pilot program was implemented by NC GreenPower, a multi-utility, non-profit renewable energy program based in Raleigh as a way to provide more hands-on experiences and real world connections for students. Marketing and Communications Manager Katie Lebrato says the organization is offering a matching grant of $10,000 to help New Bern High School construct their solar system.

“We’re fortunate that the State Employees Credit Union Foundation has also come in with a challenge grant.  So as long as New Bern meets their goal, the Credit Union will put in an additional $10,000 and that will allow us to increase the size of their array from a 3 kw to a 5 kw.”

In addition to the matching grant, NC GreenPower is also providing curriculum, lesson plans and training to teachers.

“We’re inviting all of the teachers who are participating in this project, up to four per school so it won’t be just one educator that’s trained, we’re inviting them all to a training session so they can learn the curriculum that we’re recommending they use along with solar array, we’re providing some supplemental material so they can kind of test out, not just what we think is good curriculum but other resources that are available.

Because this is the pilot year of the Solar Schools program, feedback from the teachers is essential in providing a more comprehensive curriculum package in the future.  Science Teacher at New Bern High Sandy Parker there are many classroom applications using the solar panels.

“It meshes really well with the sustainable energy options that we look at in Earth Science, which is what I teach.  And it meshes beautifully as we talk about greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint and our sustainable energy options.  It’s a great application for math and just generating numbers for calculations for energy savings.”

The instrumentation for the solar panels is computer generated and can be accessed in the classroom, displayed over a projector and monitored in real time.  The system will also allow Parker to access archived data.  Parker says this allows her students to record the functions of the solar panels over the course of a year. 

“Part of our grant obligation will be to implement a few lessons within science, math, we’ll use CTE, career technical education and social studies departments and so we’ll have different lessons that we’ll do and tracking that will be part of that as well.”

Parker has big plans on how to incorporate the solar panels and renewable energy concepts into the classroom, but the first step is securing funding.  So far, students, school clubs, businesses and people in the community have donated about $9,000 to the project.  There’s still $4,000 left to go.  Even though the deadline for New Bern High to have matching funds has passed, Parker remains optimistic that they’ll raise the remaining money and the solar panels will still go online in late-January.

In addition to New Bern High, East Columbus High School in Columbus County, C.E. Jordan High School in Durham County and Meadowview Magnet Middle School in Surry County were selected for the pilot program.  Next year, NC GreenPower plans to offer 10 matching grants to schools across the state.  For more information on the Solar Schools project, visit http://my.ncgreenpower.org/.