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High school explores solar power, thanks to PSE grant

The recent unseasonably nice weather has allowed students at Vashon High School to experiment with technology they got their hands on through a grant the school recently received from Puget Sound Energy (PSE).

On Thursday, Sept. 30, students in Amy Bogaard’s Sustainable Design and Renewable Energy class were sprawled across the tennis courts at the high school, using miniature solar panels to harvest the bright afternoon sun, create circuits and run small motors. When the weather turns, they will be outside again, instead using small turbines to collect energy from the wind.

These hands-on labs were made possible by a grant awarded to the school in July by PSE’s Renewable Energy Education Program, which aims to get students thinking about new ways to produce energy and bring new technologies into the classroom.

Bogaard said the materials from the grant are already enhancing her class, a career and technical education course that is being offered for the first time this year. “I talk about it and talk about it in the classroom, but it’s so much better to get them out there doing it themselves,” she said.

In addition to classroom materials, curriculum and teacher training to be used by Bogaard, the $14,050 grant will also allow the high school to better use its solar array, which was installed atop the B Building last spring.

PSE is currently working with the school to install a new system to monitor the panels and a kiosk that will display information such as the weather and the panels’ energy output, as well as allow students to compare that information with solar panels on schools across the country.

Dave Wilke, the district’s facilities director, said the kiosk, which will be installed in the school’s lobby, will be available for anyone to view. “You can get into the real-time analysis of what this thing is doing,” he said.

Though details have yet to be finalized, PSE’s Micah Haman, who manages the grant program, said the kiosk could even feature an interactive touch screen. “There are 150-some schools across the country that have similar systems; they can compare and look at the other schools,” he said.

Haman said the fact that VHS already had a solar array helped it win the competitive grant, which was awarded to seven schools and organization in the region. In addition, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 46 pledged to match PSE’s grant up to $6,000. That money may be used to expand the existing solar array.

Bogaard and those in-volved in writing the grant hope that when the district eventually purchases an electric utility vehicle to be used by groundskeepers at the high school, information from its charging station will be displayed at the kiosk as well. Ideally, the solar array will one day generate as much energy as it takes to charge the car, Bogaard said.

“They can see this is the amount of energy that we’re producing and this is that amount that we’re using. It would be a great visual for the educational concept,” Bogaard said.

Bill Moyer, who heads the Backbone Campaign and brought the grant opportunity to the school district’s attention, is pleased to see renewable energy education take off at the high school.

“It’s a nice collaboration,” he said. “It builds the beginnings of an electric vehicle infrastructure on the Island … and it creates education around green jobs.”

The Backbone Campaign also helped the school district win a $73,000 Waterworks grant from King County last year.

“I’m really proud the Backbone Campaign has been able to help the school district in this way,” Moyer said.

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