One of the things that I love about Recovery Act-funded projects is the innovative way in which they often tackle more than one issue.
I'm thinking specifically of a few stimulus-funded solar photovoltaic projects I've visited or heard about recently that manage to combine energy efficiency with educating the next generation in sustainability – both of which are of equal importance.
Boston College High School installed an 870 panel solar installation on its roof, thanks to the Commonwealth Solar Stimulus rebate. The 197 kW system will produce 40 percent of the electricity needed for the campus.
But what I really like about this project is that the solar panels are also being used as a visual teaching tool for the students. As Dan Burgess, of the Department of Energy Resources writes, Brian Maher, executive director of capital planning and technology at the high school, told Burgess that "the solar panels are being used to teach students firsthand about the importance of sustainability and renewable energy." As part of the curriculum, said Maher, students tour the solar PV system and then track the power being generated in real-time through an online monitoring system.
Maher added to Burgess, "We can’t wait to show the students the progress when the school year starts again."
Now that's an education.
I saw the same types of systems installed in Milton on the Collicut Elementary School and the Milton
High School. The solar arrays installed on these schools – which were funded through the Recovery Act -- can be accessed through classroom computers so the teachers can demonstrate to the students, in real time, exactly how the solar panels are functioning, what the cost savings are and even how the weather is impacting the array.
Bill Clark, Milton's Director of Planning and Community Development, told me: "It shows the students what a system like that is capable of doing in the real world. They can understand the concept, touch it and use it. It's a real learning tool."
Indeed it is.
The learning extends to the university level. I visited the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth which installed solar arrays on five of its buildings, thanks to Recovery Act funds. Included in the installation is a connection to a web-based system that demonstrates, in real time, the benefits of the solar system. This system, open to all Internet users, is extremely comprehensive -- showing visitors every aspect of the solar installations and its energy saving impact from how many gallons of gas have been saved to how many trees to how many tons of carbon dioxide. Users can see the impact of shade on the installation and learn which building is best situated to catch the sun's rays.
As Manny Del Lima, senior resident engineer for the university, told me, "It brings awareness of energy conservation efforts to the campus. It's also helpful to students who want to do research."
The Recovery Act has provided approximately $32 million for solar projects across the state, funding 114 solar projects or 20.7 megawatts of solar installation. The stimulus program has helped to establish the solar industry in Massachusetts, but its side benefits are just as crucial -- impacting the next generation's attitude towards solar energy.