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Green Power Switch News
Vol. 2, No. 1,
Winter 2002

Students Are Energized About Solar Power
By Emily Sullivan, Gibson Electric Membership Corporation

photo of sun
Students at Gibson County High School in Dyer, Tennessee, have become resident experts on solar energy. A solar array built at the school last fall became the catalyst for a curriculum that now includes the study of alternative energy sources and the operation and performance of photovoltaic (PV) modules.

TVA partnered with Gibson Electric Membership Corporation and Gibson County Special School District on the project, giving GCHS the distinction of being the first school in the Tennessee Valley to host a Green Power Switch solar-powered generating facility.

The 18-kilowatt photovoltaic system is mounted on two 16- by 135-foot canopies that provide cover for a walkway between the school’s vocational-technical center and its gymnasium. The 480 semiconductor cells (modules) that comprise the PV system convert sunlight directly into electricity. When operating at full potential, the PV system can produce about 18 kilowatts of electricity—about as much as is needed to power two average homes in the Tennessee Valley.

Students in Dr. Jane Pinkerton’s physics class access real-time data sent from the solar array to a computer in their classroom. They analyze solar radiation, wind speed, temperature, and rainfall data; track the amount of electricity produced at the site; and calculate the amount of emissions into the air that will be reduced by using solar power.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for them to be more aware of alternative energy sources and to learn firsthand about alternative forms of energy,” Dr. Pinkerton says.

Students in David Summers’ agriculture class have also benefited from the solar project. It offered them an opportunity to hone their horticultural skills by setting out shrubbery, laying sod, arranging landscape stones, and providing for adequate drainage around the site. Once the plants were established, the students made observations concerning the shading effect caused by the position and angle of the canopies.

Perhaps most impressive of all, interest in solar power at the school prompted a curriculum integration project between Dr. Pinkerton’s principles of technology class, Ronnie Hall’s auto mechanics class, and Mike Sims’ drafting and metals class. The classes pooled their resources to design, build, and race a solar-powered car. They entered their first competition in May—the Solar Bike Rayce USA 2001 in Topeka, Kansas.

“Preparing for this competition was a very good hands-on learning project,” Dr. Pinkerton says. Students researched the technical requirements; did cost, efficiency, and energy-output comparisons of various solar panels; and purchased materials. They then labored for hours welding the aluminum frame, installing a 120-watt solar panel and two 12-volt batteries, and applying a covering of airplane fabric.

Even though they didn’t take home the gold, the students and faculty were undaunted. They plan to build a new, improved model and return for next year’s race.

For more information about solar power and Gibson County High School’s solar photovoltaic array, go to the Green Power Switch solar page.

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In this issue

Main Story: Green Power Switch Keeps Growing

Also: Wind Proposals

Spreading the Message About Environmental Stewardship
Students are energized about solar power

• Methane Gas Sites
• Generation and   Participation Figures