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2008-May-12 - South Carolina Solar Panels in Schools

Next year, Chapin Middle School students will use cars powered by solar energy.

They’ll be model cars, but educators and energy experts say it’s part of a move toward embracing more environmentally friendly ways to provide power.

Chapin Middle is one of the state’s 20 Green Power Solar Schools that will receive a 10-by-12-foot solar panel to help teach students about alternative sources for energy. Teachers and students — as well as anyone in the community — will be able to monitor a Web site to see how much energy the panel produces.

The program is part of a partnership between Santee Cooper power company and Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative.

“We wanted something that is reaching out to a young audience,” said Laura Varn, vice president of corporate communications for Santee Cooper.

“The children are the future inventors. This project provides students with real-life experience on how to make it better for the future.”

The program targets sixth-grade students, who learn about energy and how it works as part of their science curriculum.

Chapin’s solar panel was installed last month. The school will celebrate with an official unveiling of the panel May 27.

Students will be able to see how much electricity is being made from the solar panel’s cells and track other solar schools’ activity across the state and country.

Plus, they’ll be able to conduct experiments, including ones using model cars.

Teachers said they hope students will enjoy learning about the benefits and challenges of renewable energy.

“I have been preaching to my students for years about trying to find a renewable energy source that does not pollute the environment,” said Bonita Guram, a Chapin Middle science teacher.

Guram said solar power is the future.

“There is a better way to get energy,” she said. “There is a more efficient renewable energy that we should be learning about and using a lot more.”

Guram is one of four teachers who will be trained to use the monitoring equipment and taught lessons to teach students.

Santee Cooper created the first solar school at Hilton Head Middle two years ago.

On Friday, Carvers Bay Middle in Georgetown hosted its solar panel dedication ceremony.

And in coming months, another five “green” schools will be announced.

Energy officials said there are still some challenges in increasing the presence of solar energy in South Carolina, including the state’s weather and the cost of equipment.

“In South Carolina, you think it’s a sunny state, but there’s a lot of cloud coverage,” Varn said.

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