Solar Panels anyone? That’s right! Maine East High School celebrated its rightfully deserved “Solarbration” on Thursday, September13th, 2012. Many students, teachers, and speakers participated in this event not just to celebrate, but to learn all about solar energy. It all started with energy-conscious students who were in the Renewable Energy Club along with East teachers David Schultz and Rebecca Stewart. They took action and made possible the installation of photo-voltaic panels that contribute to Maine East High School’s energy. These panels generate 1 kilowatt of power.
Exactly how do these solar panels work? As sunlight hits the panel with photons (particles of sunlight), it excites electrons which produce electricity. Photo-voltaic solar cells convert the sunlight into energy. This flow of electrons, or energy, is then led into an inverter, which converts the energy into AC power that is distributed to appliances and outlets inside the house, business, or school. AC power is what televisions, computers, and toasters use when plugged into wall outlets. Simple photo-voltaic cells power watches and even calculators. There are 3 types of Photo-voltaic systems: Utility Grid Interconnected, Off-Grid Independent, and Bi-Modal. Grid Connected systems are the simplest and most efficient Photo-voltaic set up. They are connected to the utility grids inside homes. Off-Grid systems operate without using the utility grid by using batteries as storage. These systems are usually used for buildings which are far away from their utility grids. Bi-Modal systems are similar to the Grid-Connected systems but Bi-Modal systems also use batteries as a backup energy source in case the utility grid fails. If the utility power ever goes out due to a storm, Bi-Modal systems can still work off of the backup battery source. It is basically a combination of the first two systems.
So, why should you buy and install solar panels? For one, sunlight is renewable. “My daughter loves to turn on all the beautiful lights in her room even when it is nice and sunny out.” said vice president John Caravette of Earth Wind and Solar Energy. If you have anyone in your family like that, solar panels will save you the money and energy! The panels don’t take much time to install and they last for twenty to forty years. That’s a long time! The solar energy which is converted into electricity also provides hot water for cleaning purposes, showering, and laundry. The energy is affordable and reliable, it is not dangerous to our health, it protects our environment because it does not pollute our land, water, air; and it does emit carbon dioxide unlike fossil fuels (which release large amounts of greenhouse gases such as carbon and methane). Of course, with pros always come cons. The problem is that photo-voltaic panels have a high initial cost. Also, the direct sunlight current has to be converted into an alternative current that is compatible to our homes. They also need electric storage and the grants cost about $8000 while the panels cost about $9000, as Mr. Schultz explained in his presentation at the “Solarbration.” Although these issues do play a big part, in the long run, solar panels really are what is best for the Earth in order to keep it healthy at a sustainable level.
There are currently companies and organizations that are helping in making people aware of solar energy and the power of the sun so that they may one day be convinced to use it. Companies such as Solar Service offer solar systems to install. The Illinois Solar Energy Association (ISEA) is dedicated to helping people pay less for their utilities and create a cleaner environment.
The “Solarbration” ended on a happy note as students left with pizza-filled stomachs, solar cars, and fresh knowledge about photo-voltaic panels. The event was a great success! Go Maine East!