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Solar panels help educate at high school

by KATE COIL Bluefield Daily Telegraph on June 04, 2013 11:00 AM

WELCH, W.Va. — An energy project at a McDowell County high school is teaching students, residents and local companies new ways to keep the lights on.

Ed Evans, current athletic director at Mount View High School and a retired science teacher, said the school has been using the solar panels to subsidize utility costs.

“They have been up for right at a year in April,” Evans said. “Obviously, their job is to make electricity and they have produced for the year about 7.5 million watt hours of electricity, which has been used by the school. The electricity goes directly into the school to offset whatever electricity we use to save the school money. Anything the school uses electricity for it subsidizes it.”

Evans said there is more potential for savings during the 25-year lifetime of the panels.

“It makes a small dent in our bill,” he said. “We think over the life of the panels, which is around 25 years, we could see several thousands of dollars’ worth of savings. This is a long-standing project for the school.”

The solar panels started as a project for a school club, Evans said.

“The project was originally undertaken by the Health Science and Technology Academy or HSTA students,” Evans said.

“The panels became a project of that group of students. They did experiments like determining the best angle for the panels to be placed at for optimum production. They did a couple of experiments to figure out the savings to present before the board of education.

“The original thought was the panels would be like a battery system to help charge the laptops we use in the school.

“The panels were then placed on the school’s grid for the long-run and they contribute to the entire building now.”

Evans said several people contributed to bringing the project to McDowell County.

“The grant was from the U.S. Department of Energy and through the help of Marshall University we were able to get matching funding for this project,” he said. “We give a lot of credit to McDowell County Schools Maintenance Director Will Champan for helping get this up and going. The board of education was also very instrumental in helping with this project.”

Evans said the panels continue to offer educational opportunities to Mount View students.

“The kids get to see sunlight being turned into electricity and see the machines that do it,” he said.

“They learn about energy changes and there are experiments they have done with the panels. It is a win-win for education and this is all about education.

“The data is being saved on this site and everyone can access it. This is something we can proud of. This has enabled our kids to see alternative energy is out there. Our HSTA kids conduct tours for people coming to see them. They are the experts on all of this.”

Additionally, Evans said the panels are being used to educate the public about solar energy.

“Now it is a demonstration site for people to see what kind of space is available and what kind of companies are available,” he said. “Ours was put in by a West Virginia company called Power in My Backyard (PIMBY).”

Evans said the students can keep track of how much energy the panels are generating online.

“Everything is online and you can go into the interface sight and see the graphs of how much is being produced and used,” Evans said. “You can see how much carbon we are offsetting. You can see what kind of weather we had that day. You can see when the days are getting longer and shorter because of how much is absorbed. It is maintenance free. We occasionally have to wipe down the panels, but other than that there isn’t much we have to do. It’s a wealth of science to have this up there.”

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