Students are shouting from the rooftops
in solar excitement
May 18, 2010
By Jason Misner
Communications Officer, HDSB staff
Students and staff at Iroquois Ridge and M.M. Robinson high schools are shouting excitedly from their school rooftops about recent installations of solar panels to help green our planet.
Thanks to a $280,000 grant from the Ontario ministries of Education and Research and Innovation, 50 panels have been installed on the rooftops of Iroquois Ridge and M.M. Robinson to generate clean and quiet power. Each school received $140,000, which saw the panels installed by Lindsay, Ontario-based Evergreen Power Ltd. last month.
The Ontario government has made a big push in the last couple of years to encourage individuals and businesses to generate their own clean electricity through numerous incentives and rebates.
Grade 12 student Michael Usling, a member of IRHS’s eco-school club, said these kinds of alternate power sources are important to incorporate because of the increasing discussion about creating sustainable energy systems.
“I think it’s cool we’re one of the first pilot schools to have them and I think it’s cool we can keep on expanding them as time goes on,” the 17 year old said. “We know we are running out of fossil fuels.”
While the total power generation will be enough to operate 1-2 houses a year (totalling 14 megawatts per year), staff members say the value of the solar panels goes beyond dollars and cents and sends a strong message to youth that creative, green thinking will benefit Earth.
A key part of that message lies in the learning for students through ties to the curriculum.
In the science curriculum, for instance, Grade 9 students learn about electricity, and relating science to technology, society and the environment.
One of the overall learning expectations is for students to assess the costs and benefits associated with the production of electrical energy from renewable and non-renewable sources, and analyze how electrical efficiencies and savings can be achieved.
“Certainly this real-life example of a sustainable alternative for electricity generation will a great point of reference for teachers to use,” said Cindy Cosentino, the board’s Instructional Program Leader of Secondary Science, Pathways and Differentiated Instruction.
Hattie Farrell, M.M. Robinson principal, is “very pleased” to see her school’s rooftop has been fitted with solar panels. They are located on the rooftop closer to Angela Coughlin pool on the school site’s west side.
She said she likes to see today’s young students exposed to new technologies to produce alternate forms of energy.
“I have a lot of hope for this,” Farrell said, adding the monitoring could be applied to the province’s newly-revamped science curriculum. “It’s a whole new ball game now.’
Tim Butler, one of IRHS’s eco-school club’s teacher advisors, said solar panels have been a personal interest for a “long, long time.” There are countless rooftops in the community to be used for solar panels, he said, adding there’s been discussion about this kind of initiative at Iroquois Ridge over the past two years.
In fact, a letter of support was written to Oakville Hydro – which helps establish the local power connection – and a school petition collected a few hundred names in support of rooftop solar panels.
The eco-school club – a key player in getting the panels – researched different types of clean energy sources and discovered, for example, the school wouldn’t be the best place for wind turbines. But the building has a “clear, south facing”, 30-degree wall on the roof, which is “exactly the angle solar panels need,” Butler said.
“It’s like the school was built for it,” he explained, adding the ministry contribution helped make the project possible. “It really caught the imagination of the students.”
Butler said the school would use the monitoring stations to study clean energy alternatives, as well as in subjects like math, including calculating the energy produced.
Also, he noted the educational tie in would help “normalize” green technologies.
“It’s exciting to be at the start of this,” said Butler. “I’m proud of the kids for working so hard to make it happen.”
IRHS principal Jacqueline Newton, hopes the solar panel installation has long-term benefits. She said the project fits the school’s goals, like global responsibility, to help students understand “one person can make a difference.”
According to the Ontario Power Authority – whose primary role is to plan for long-term reliability and adequacy of Ontario’s electricity system – solar energy is a renewable resource that is free, environmentally friendly and readily available. Solar energy can be used in many ways to provide heat, lighting, mechanical power and electricity.
An incentive of the solar panel project is the ability for the business or person, in this case IRHS and MMR, to generate its own electricity to be sold to the Ontario Power Authority. Called the feed-in tariff or FIT program, it’s North America's first comprehensive guaranteed pricing structure for renewable electricity production. It offers stable prices under long-term contracts for energy generated from renewable sources including solar panels.
IRHS, for example, could generate around $10,000 a year in revenue, said Evergreen Power’s Chief Operating Office Tim Burke. The board’s Business Services department will determine how the revenue would be used, said Glenn Marchand, Energy and Environmental Coordinator for the public board.
Burke said the solar panel installations are an “excellent application,” adding Evergreen fitted a Lindsay school rooftop with solar panels in 2008.
In addition to potential financial benefits, Burke is especially happy to see how students can learn new technology “in a way that makes sense to them.”
The hope is school rooftop solar panels “will become more widespread” as the pilot projects at Iroquois Ridge and MMR prove successful, the Evergreen COO said.
The local solar panel installations are part and parcel of a $1.2 million provincial contribution to the Halton board that is being used to embark on a series of green projects.
Staff members hope they will go a long way in helping achieve environmental sustainability while teaching students about their important role in protecting the planet.
In addition to the solar panels, a new clean cooling tower is being installed at C.H. Norton, Silver Creek and West Oak public schools, and Iroquois Ridge High School; advanced lighting management system at McKenzie-Smith Bennett and Hawthorne Village public schools; greywater/rainwater recycling projects at Pineview and Limehouse public schools; and modular rooftop solar-air heating system at Eastview Public School