Archive for the 'Teacher Perspective' Category

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, One Electronic Device at a Time…

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

It seems that every time you turn around, another device has been created to make our lives easier. Many of these devices use electricity. Sure, an iPod does not require a lot of energy. However, millions of iPods requiring a little energy adds up.

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Ten years ago, the United States had around 34 million cell phones in service. Today, more than 200 million!

So, how do these statistics show up on an Energyseeds story? Well, not long ago, I received a handy little solar gadget called the Solio. The Solio is a small, portable and lightweight solar array and battery storage system. Think of it as your own personal “off-grid” power supply. The Solio literature states that an hour of charging in the sun can translate into about 25 minutes of talk time. The nice thing about the Solio, that sets it apart from other chargers, is the onboard lithiom-ion battery. That way, your expensive new mp3 player does not have to be out in the sun to charge. In fact, you can charge up your Solio and carry that juice with you for up to a year!

At first, I was really enjoying setting up the panels and adjusting the angle of the Solio towards the sun by using a pencil. Next, I began to think how I could use it.

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A student in my science class suggested that we could power a cell phone with it. Not to be outdone, another student suggested we power a cell phone with solar power – only. I am game to try anything once, so we decided to take my phone “off grid.” We are almost a month into the experiment, and my Motorola has never dipped below 2/3 a charge!

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Now let’s crunch some numbers. The average cell phone charger uses about 3 watts. Assuming that conservatively every phone is plugged in for 6 hours a week…

7 hours a week X 3 watts = 21 watts a week

21 X 52 weeks = 1092 watts a year (round to 1kWh).

If we take a simple calculation of $.10/cents a kWh, that translates to Americans are using more than 200,000,000 kWh a year to power their cell phones! That is at least $20 million a year!! Those of you that are energy savvy may know that unless those Americans are unplugging their chargers between charges, the “phantom loads” on those chargers being plugged in can be many times higher than the amount of energy they are using to charge the phones!

Lets assume half of this country’s cell phone chargers are left plugged in. (this is being optimistic)

100 million X 1watt/hour X 24 hours X 365 days =’s 876,000,000 kWh! X $.10 =’s $87 million a year!

Enough about money… By using the Solio, charging my phone is so much more convenient in my backpack. I do not need to worry about forgetting it “on the charger.” Not to mention the safety aspect during a power outage, or out hiking and camping away from modern civilization.

There are parallels between off-setting your carbon footprint of your cell phone, with off-setting your home electrical use with a home solar system. Or in the future, installing a solar-covered car port to plug in your all electric vehicle…

Sure, the immediate payback may not be there. Using the Solio as a real-life example of how to gain the convenience of a cell phone, while off-setting environmental impacts is excellent.

Buying a Solio portable solar charging device: $80
Teaching the world to reduce their carbon footprint: PRICELESS!

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California Teacher Sheds Light On Solar In Germany

Thursday, October 4th, 2007

Let us introduce you to an energetic, hands-on science and gardening teacher from Oakland, California. Sue Morgan has taught elementary science for fifteen years. At Sequoia and Glenview Elementary, Mrs. Morgan emphasizes a responsible energy future to the adults of tomorrow. As a PG&E solar school teacher, a member of the NEED/ PG&E California Teacher Advisory Board, and recently a Fund for Teachers recipient, Sue has a solid background on the topic of solar. Here is what she submitted about her recent trip to learn about solar in Germany:

I was the proud recipient of a grant from the Fund For Teachers (which has funding for K-12 teachers, within specific urban areas of the US, to go on summer education trips – www.fundforteacher.org). As the Science teacher at Glenview Elementary School, the first PG&E Solar School in Oakland California, I was interested in researching and observing first-hand the major solar electric installations that have gone up in Germany over the past few years. Germany has distanced itself from all other countries in the world in committing and following through on alternative forms of electricity production. I took advantage of my fellowship to visit, in person, four of the largest PV Solar Parks in the world, all of which are located in Germany. Germany’s increase in solar electric installations is quite impressive: 2003, 145MW; 2006, 968MW. An increase of over 600% in 3 years! An astounding 40+ percent is in residential power!

For my fellowship, I chose to also attend the Intersolar. The intersolar is an international conference and trade show to spotlight solar electric designs and innovations which has been held in Freiburg, Germany for the past 6 or 7 years. Having lived in Germany after graduating from college oh so many years ago, I did have to do some pretrip refresher sessions on my German language abilities. In attending the Intersolar 2007 I found it amazing, overwhelming and a bit disjointed for someone from the under-funded education and nonprofit world. But once I got past the costs involved in the exhibitors’ stalls and booths (multiple flat screens for viewing, couches, tables, chairs, the plethora of give aways; pens, pencils, canvas bags, flyers, Frisbees) and got focused on what some of the new technologies are and I was impressed: Solar glass handling much of the power needs on a skyscraper floor; rolled out solar sheets which are less bulky and labor intensive to install on roofs; solar imbedded in roofing materials. There was a lot of solar electric for heating. All of these were being done in many areas of Europe and Asia.

After the three day conference we set off in search of some of the largest solar electric installations in the world. It was inspiring to actually see these PV Solar Parks in situ, knowing that they were producing 5-12 megawatts of power (enough to power 1700-4000 households) and emitting NO greenhouse gases. Just observing the ‘Potential Possibles’ made me feel simply elated. That a promised innovative technology- capable of producing what we all need without present pollution or never-ending toxic waste- has been given an arena to prove itself, is indeed a reality suffused with hope.

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Solarpark Pocking… 10MW powering 3500 households, also allowing sheep to continue grazing.

In 2006 alone, Germany installed over 960 MW of electricity. These installations included residential and commercial in large and small spaces. Installations that I visited were located in rural areas not far from major cities, but actually situated on the outskirts of small villages. Many residents were aware of their hidden power plants, but in one case when we were ever so close, I jumped out of the car to ask fine tune directions from a fire fighter and discovered he knew nothing one of the world’s largest solar electric plant no more than 2 miles from his firehouse. Then again, he may not have been from the community… but from a larger city.

All but one of the solar parks were experiencing rain on the day we found ourselves visiting and 3 of the 4 had sheep and/or goats that were grazing on grass growing underneath the panels. None of the parks were far from residential areas so there was little loss of power in transport. Most of the Solarparks were really not part of the visual landscape and only one had signage to let you know you were getting close. These parks were not easy to find, meaning they were not on major motorways. Back roads and small communities are where these parks are found amid rolling fields of grapes, wheat or just plain grazing land.

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Sheep sharing the Gut Erlasee field with 12MW of solar power.

I am more convinced than ever that solar can truly be a part of our future electric needs. Since all of the large solar parks are on farm land, it seems as though they have one field for wheat, another for corn and then one for panels which power the area. If they can power 1500-4000 households, that is a lot of power for a field to produce. Yes, they still need to grow food. Hopefully, those in charge will make sure the money does not become the sole reason for solar decision making. It’s that moderation, that balance, that we must strive for instead of profits over people and the planet. Yes, there is another way to look at what makes a community strong and healthy and how we choose to live.

As a science teacher, this fellowship allowed me to see first hand the size and impact these large installations are having. I have seen the panels near the Mojave Desert here in California, whose landscape calls for more solar, but these areas in Germany are part of farmland, rolling hillsides. The weather in mid-late June was overcast with daily bouts of thunderstorms and lots of rain… for perhaps an hour or so followed by sunny skies again. My assumption is that if they are actually producing enough electricity with that kind of weather, we in California should certainly get moving on installing as much solar electric as we can (and with our Solar Initiative 2006 we are)!

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Solarpark Muehlhausen Germany 6.3MW powering 2025 households.

I read recently that California is on pace in 2007 to install more solar electric than all California installations in the previous 30 years. So, it does seem as though we are waking up and committing to a future with a future. I have also recently read an op ed piece that touted nuclear energy as the ‘greenhouse gas free’ alternative energy source that will help slow climate change. There was no mention of the pesky toxic, and when we are talking nuclear toxic, we are talking life toxicity for THOUSANDS of years. This is toxic residue that no one in 50 years has figured out how to deal with in a competent way and for good reason. So NUCLEAR to me is a dirty, pardon the pun, secret that has no viability in our future. I think it is irresponsible of politicians and business people to discuss it as something that might have a future.. purely because they might be able to make a better profit on it. Yes, solar is still expensive, but thousands of years of toxicity will be pretty expensive itself and it’s not as though we do not have alternatives to try out with serious financial backing first. Germany provides the real-time now example of one way to attempt this experiment.

As a teacher, I feel it is important for me to inspire my students to push for a solar future, for these children will be paying their own electric bills before we know it. Sharing with the students, their parents and the community at large, my first hand experience of massive solar that works, may just help educate a larger percentage of the Dimond and Glenview Communities on how viable solar really is. If it can happen in Germany in such numbers, it can certainly happen here.

Sue Morgan Glenview Elementary, Oakland CA.

Two Birds, Two Stones, One Movement

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

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Big things can happen even in small towns when small projects are undertaken by strong leaders…here’s the story of how a couple of solar seeds took root in Illinois…the after school club is not what it used to be as you’ll see…

Story submitted by Katie Kizer. Warren and Apple River, IL

Perceptions of after-school clubs tend to range depending on the nature of the organization, the individuals involved, their respective motivation to encourage productivity, and the personality of the school itself. The traditional understanding of these organizations is that students can join a group of personal interest to them and feel an extended sense of community beyond everyday classes.

One could argue that after-school clubs have a certain substandard reputation in American society when it comes to the “cool” thing for students to do within our public schools. Attempting to demonstrate this point with examples would be counterproductive based on the previously mentioned relativity. I do, however, argue that the face of these clubs has begun to change at the local level, specifically in the Warren Community Schools.

There are also those clubs and organizations which often credit their high turnout and competition among leadership to the pressure to be in good standing on the pages of college applications. What I want to bring to light is that a new generation of card-carrying members of school clubs has surfaced, and it is far from the cliché standard of student council and formal dance committees. In the Warren Community School District #205, an Energy Club has emerged, headed by Pam Phelps, and it has been generating a new breed of student activists.

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With the assistance of the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, the Foundation for Environmental Education, Commonwealth Edison, and the National Energy Education and Development project (NEED), two solar installations have been carried out at two different schools in the district.

Warren Elementary has a 1KW Photovoltaic system.

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Apple River Middle School uses a 2KW system.

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These two installations represent one large project that has changed the approach to learning among the members of both the Energy Club and science classes. According to Gail Heidenreich, Secretary at Apple River Middle School, these solar PV systems have allowed the “kids to learn a lot, but they are also teaching others what they have learned.” At such young ages, it is wonderfully refreshing to see students embracing renewable energy and even taking an interest in teaching others about what they have discovered.

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In a district with a general population of less than 2,000 people, all it takes is one movement of individuals, regardless of age, to turn to one another and start a discussion about saving energy. This can affect each and every person in a community, especially in one such as Warren where education is so highly valued.

Once such a discussion has transpired, learning and inspiration to teach others supercedes the formal education process. This is because the message of helping the environment can transcend both grade levels and even school walls into the general community. Warren, Apple River, and the Energy Club that unites these schools are fundamental building blocks of this progression.

A major element of the mission as stated by Warren School District #205 is that they “believe that education is a combined effort of home, school, and community; and that all students have the capability to learn.” These solar school projects epitomize this message based on the positive repercussions that have been relayed by the faculty and community.

“Walking the Walk” About Solar…

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Often I am surrounded by forward-thinking people. People, like me, who recognize that there must be a shift to renewable energy in this country, and this world. Fortunately, many people realize this. However, most, myself included, are talking about solar and renewables, but are not quite practicing it. “We want solar, but we do not know how long we will be in our house.” “When things slow down, I would like to get an estimate for solar on my house…” “After that next project/job/etc., we’ll be able to afford solar…” Meanwhile, every bit each of us does…now…within our means…matter.

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Let me introduce Bob Hodash. Bob is a teacher at Sierra Middle School in Bakersfield, California. He has written and won grants from both the PG&E solar Schools program and the BP A+ for Energy program. He is the “Kids for Solar Energy” Club advisor and on the PG&E Solar Schools Program Teacher Advisory Board. This summer, Bob installed a 3.8kWh AC system. The picture of his installation was taken 08-26-07. The temperature outside was 92 degrees Farenheit, and the system was generating 3,085 watts at 2:30 pm.

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As you read his story, think about how ideal your home or work is for solar. The change to renewables does not happen overnight, but one installation at a time…

Story submitted by Bob Hodash

722kwh in June! (722 Thousand-Watt-Hours!) That’s the amount of electricity my roof mounted solar panels produced in the first month of use, July 2007. Not bad for not even being at home. I was actually on vacation in upstate New York and my roof was producing electricity, providing the grid with extra power and making me money. PG&E credits the energy that my solar panels produce in excess of what I use and since I was away and anything consuming power was unplugged, it was all excess power. It’s actually more of a credit, and California has full retail net-metering which allows me to get maximum financial benefit for my solar production.

Of course for the globally minded, I saved many tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere. On a hot day like today in California, my solar power and fellow solar power deployers may have helped the state avoid rolling brown or blackouts.

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The image above was pulled off of the California Independent System Operator (ISO) website. The green line shows what was available, and the red line shows what our usage was… Today was a spare the air day, and may of my fellow schools along with businesses were asked to voluntarily reduce loads (turn off uneeded lights, increase the air temperature thus requiring less energy to cool the air, etc.). It’s unbelievable that our load went up over 50,000 MW, but there was my energy contribution…on a day like today, let nobody doubt that every individual contribution does make a difference.

I added no pollutants to the earth or the atmosphere and possibly convinced two others neighbors to follow my lead. More if this short article convinces others.

The process was a bit lengthy of choosing a contractor, the panels and the inverter, and then applying for a home equity loan. I went with a California company (SolarCity) to install, and California companies that made the panels and inverter (SolarWorld and Xantrex, respectively). Think Globally and Buy Locally! Once the decision was made the installation went very quickly and with only minor communication issues, which were quickly solved. The rebate from the Public Utilities Commission & PG&E was handled by the company (almost $9K) and the Feds will be chipping in at least $2K in April.

My advice for those who have panels installed, communicate with your contractor, make sure plenty of cold water is available to the installers (we invited our installers in for pizza lunch, which was of course was gladly accepted), and keep all of your paperwork organized, so you know what equipment you purchased, and try to work with one person as the job coordinator.

Would I do it again, yes! Do I feel good about it, yep!! And, do I brag to other people about it, please see above!!!

If you have specific questions please e-mail me at bhodash@bak.rr.com.

Thanks and “The Future is Clean Energy!”

Solar Shines, even in the Sunset

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

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In late May, AP Giannini Middle School in South San Francisco dedicated their 1kW solar array with a solar celebration. As part of the PG&E Solar Schools program, it is one of 8 systems provided to schools in the San Francisco area this year. PG&E has awarded dozens of these systems to schools in California – cost free…by the end of the year, there will be 100.

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This dedication was unique in that it included students from another solar school. These students were from Evergreen 6 in Paradise, California. Evergreen was awarded a solar installation in 2005, and was given the opportunity to share what they had learned with students just beginning to learn about solar first hand.

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Pat Snyder, one of the teachers from Evergreen said, “This is a great opportunity for students in our small community to travel to the city and interact with students from the city. It is a classic case of country meets city and at the end of the day, all students recognized that being responsible about energy is something we can all do – regardless of where we live.”

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Students from Evergreen set up a number of stations including: solar beads, solar cooking, facts about the sun, a solar telescope, renewable vs. non-renewable energy, hydrogen car (with hydrogen made from the sun), as well as a station that explained the PG&E grant and the online monitoring of all solar schools. PG&E was there with their Mobile Customer Education Center (bus), “Helmet” (the mascot of PG&E), a Hydrogen Fuel Cell car, and several staff.

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The Foundation For Environmental Education, The National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project, and representatives from SolarCity were on hand to assist in student learning. Several school and government officials were also on hand to support the project and to convey how renewable energy fits into their vision.

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Greg Holman, another teacher from Paradise observed, “What a great way to get students excited about solar! Today has been a sort of ‘passing of the torch’ from students that have had an installation to students just starting the journey.”

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Here is how one of his students felt about the day:

EXPERIENCING SOLAR FIRST HAND

My school, Evergreen 6, located in Paradise California, went to San Francisco to teach the students of A.P. Gianinni Middle School about their new sharp solar array. It felt great to teach students about the gift their school was getting! I worked the arts and crafts booth where we gave the students solar-bead bracelets. The students of A.P. Gianinni were very excited about the bracelets and learning how dangerous ultra violet rays are. The students learned that solar beads change color when the ultra violet rays become harmful. They were amazed how exposed we were, even on a cloudy day!

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The students will have the chance to see first hand what their science books are saying. After all, books can only get you so far; experiencing solar power ‘hands on’ is far more exciting! One of the questions a student asked that really stood out to me was, “How will solar energy help the world and my school?” We told that student that solar energy was a renewable energy source that would help us be less dependent on fossil fuel. All in all, I think the students of both A.P. Gianinni and Evergreen 6 had a great time and learned a lot about solar energy. I know I did!

-Michaela Mundt
Paradise, California

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Although it was overcast for the entire Solarbration, there were many lessons to be learned about solar. Solar ovens were not able to bake cookies. However, they did get forty degrees above the ambient temperature. Photovoltaic cells were able to generate electricity, even with heavy clouds. The pigments in solar beads changed color, reminding us that we need to protect our skin from the sun – even when we cannot see the sun.

What will be fascinating over the coming months, will be to compare data from the Bay Area solar schools installations. Although there will be several installations in and near San Francisco, we will be able to see micro-climates and how two systems can have different results, even if just a few blocks away. We will be able to investigate this large-scale science project with the only variable being the location – all with a few clicks of the mouse.

With so much excitement and enthusiasm from the students, staff and parents at A.P. Gianinni Middle School, the solar schools program is a seed that will rapidly grow to be a huge part of the experience at APG!

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Camp in East Bay Allows Students to Experience Responsible Energy Use

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

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Livermore, CA

Camp Arroyo is located on a 138-acre site at Del Valle Regional Park south of Livermore. The site is the former location of the Alameda County Tuberculosis Sanitarium, at the end of Arroyo Road. In 1996 The Taylor Family Foundation decided to construct Camp Arroyo to support children in need, and partnered with the East Bay Regional Park and YMCA. Camp Arroyo is now one of the Bay Area’s Premier Environmental Education and Conference & Retreat Centers, and receives over 6,000 visitors annually. During the school year, many of these visitors are students in the 4th-6th grade, staying for up to 5 days. James Choe is the Director of Outdoor Environmental Education at the YMCA Outdoor School at Camp Arroyo in Livermore, California. Recently I was able to talk to Mr. Choe about many of the exciting energy related activities campers get to experience. Camp Arroyo was selected as a PG&E Solar School given their environmental vision, and connection to thousands of students.

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The entire facility was built to be a working example of sustainable design and green architecture including: efficient windows and proper orientation to provide passive solar, solar hot water systems, and even a straw-bale building allow campers to understand that “going green” is not only good for the environment, it can be comfortable, economical, and attractive. The facility was recognized as one of the Top 10 Green Projects of 2002 by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Committee on the Environment.

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For all green architecture aficionados out there, be sure to check out the Siegel & Strain Architects Camp Arroyo overview- http://www.siegelstrain.com/inst-arroyo.html.

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In small naturalist-led Adventure Groups, students explore topics including: geology, watersheds, natural history, local Native American history, and a climbing wall. Topics are carefully designed to engage students, while at the same time correlating with state curriculum standards.

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Students also study renewable energy sources. As one of the first round winners of the PG&E Solar Schools Installations in 2004, many activities revolve around solar energy. First, small solar panels are explored. Series and parallel circuits, solar panel orientation and shading are investigated. Next, solar is taken to a more concrete level. Larger panels are used to demonstrate power to a fountain and everyday electrical devices. There are two photovoltaic installations at Camp Arroyo – one next to the organic garden (powering a fountain), and the 1kW pole mount located down the hill (grid-tied). This continues the theme of becoming responsible citizens – keeping our impacts on the earth to a minimum.

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If Camp Arroyo has you ready to pack like me, you can get more information at their website: http://www.ymcaeastbay.org/camparroyo/ Or, contact James directly at: jchoe@ymcaEastBay.org.

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