Solar Panel at Kennebunk High School

[add_slideshow align=”right”]Every time the school district receives an energy bill, the district’s Energy Committee considers how to reduce it. Recently the committee decided to try to find a role for students in helping to address the energy conservation problem.

Emily Flaherty’s freshman science students took on the challenge. They researched and installed a solar thermal panel at Kennebunk High School. The goals of the project were to reduce energy costs, generate student interest in conservation and global warming, and promote student learning about methods of capturing and reusing different forms of energy.

The panel was installed in 2007, but this year Flaherty had the device hooked into her classroom so students could do experiments on energy transfer and more. Flaherty also obtained software so students could monitor daily fluctuations in the amount of energy the panel produces. The lessons reach beyond the classroom.

“They are more aware of the energy they use,” Flaherty says, noting that each student had to study the heating system used in his or her own home to find out how all of the parts connect to produce heat and electricity.

Flaherty says the kids are also thinking about energy on a more global level than before. “They are more conscious of the energy information coming at them [in the media],” she says referring to the climate change issue. “They are more apt to question things presented to them.”

The global view is also on the minds of Brent Sirois’s International Baccalaureate physics students, who work with the solar panel to learn about energy, power, and climate change.

“It’s probably the biggest global issue from a physics standpoint,” says Sirois, who expected his students to test the solar thermal panel on a variety of levels, collect and process data, and draw conclusions on what they found.

“It’s really grasped my interestto be able to chart the system, take the data from the panel, and see the actual information,” says senior Nick Cabral.

But with all of the probing, the students are finding out that green energy may sound good but is not an ideal solution to all problems. “I’m realizing green energies are not as perfect a choice as they seem,” said Spencer Pope. “Maine has a cool climate. The way the panel is set up with uninsulated piping in and out of the building, there’s a lot of loss [of energy].”

“The economics of it? It’s hard to pay off the panel,” says Daniel Neumann, adding that nuclear or wind power might be more feasible in Maine.

Both of the teachers agree that, while all of this may influence their students’ career choices, they see it as more important that these young people now consider how their own behaviors impact the planet.

“Even if we don’t go into a field that is green or physics based, you are still informing students of good and bad alternatives,” says Spencer Wood.

The Education Foundation of the Kennebunks and Arundel helped to fund the original panel installation. Flaherty was also able to secure state funding for the panel because it is considered a service learning project; she is also grateful to the community for donating additional parts and services to bring the project to life.