High school physics students joined with teachers and community members to construct a solar energy system for their school greenhouse—as a service-learning project that would allow them to investigate renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, while reducing their school’s ecological footprint.
Using classroom materials, community experts, scientific journals and the Internet, students researched various forms of renewable energy—including wind, hydro and solar. After discussing their research, the students unanimously decided that the school should invest in solar power for its greenhouse. The students presented their conclusions to the Montpelier Energy Team (a community advisory committee on energy and climate change), which agreed to help with the project. Additionally, students successfully presented to and won approval from the district administration and maintenance team to implement their project. Students and teachers worked on writing grants and presenting to local community groups seeking funding, eventually raising the $15,000 to complete the project.
After securing the necessary approval and funds, the students contacted Vermont Solar Works (a designer and installer of renewable energy systems). The students worked with the company’s president to determine the number of solar panels needed and the best approach to installation. The installation took place in phases: the first panels powered a water pump for the irrigation system; then additional panels were added to generate electricity for other greenhouse appliances including: circulation vents, heating fans, refrigerators, and computers.
Students experienced real-life applications of energy, power and efficiency by analyzing meter readings and assessing the performance of the new technology. Adding solar power to the greenhouse helped reduce the school’s ecological impact and provided a model of sustainability for the larger community.