One Bright Idea

Solar panels to be an educational tool at Molokai Middle School

By Catherine Cluett

The future is looking bright as students at the Molokai Middle School become active participants in their school’s new energy-saving technology. Through a Maui Electric Company (MECO) program called Sun Power for Schools, Molokai Middle had solar panels installed on their roof that will allow students to experience science and sustainable technology hands-on. Last Thursday marked the blessing of the photovoltaic units, attended by students, teachers, and officials.

“We’re fortunate to have the solar panels. We’ll know how much money we’ve saved,” explains eighth-grade student Briann Steverson.

The system is comprised of eight 167 watt modules, producing about six kilowatts hours of energy per day. Bryan Lampshire of Rising Sun Solar, the company that installed the system, says that’s about enough to power a computer and a few lights. An inverter allows the panels’ DC power to be converted to AC for connection to the grid. A data acquisition system gives students the opportunity to collect, monitor, and analyze data from the system as part of an integrated renewable energy curriculum.

Due to their small size, the panels are useful more for their educational value than their monetary payback. Lampshire says the panels probably won’t save the school much money on their electric bill, but they are a great learning tool. Science teacher Tiana Miguel says the data collecting system will allow students to track how much energy the panels are producing and how much money they’re saving the school. Photovoltaic energy is also a useful springboard to all types of scientific exploration in the classroom.

“The Sun Power for Schools program gives students the opportunity to become familiar with the technology in today’s renewable energy world,” says MECO President Ed Reinhardt.

Kahu Anna Lou Arakaki performed the blessing of the newly-installed panels. She accompanied Reinhardt in a bucket lifted high over the solar modules on the school roof as Middle School students and officials looked on. Both Representative Mele Carroll and Senator Kalani English prepared letters that were read at the dedication.

Sun Power for Schools Project Manager Cheryl Correa says schools around the state are selected by the Department of Education to receive the solar panels through the MECO program. Molokai High School has also benefited from the program, with panels installed in 1999. Over 30 schools statewide have been recipients of the Sun Power for Schools program, says Correa.

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