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Neighbors of DuPage

Solar panels…the “wave” of the future

Nov 17, 2015 01:56PM ● By Neighbors Magazines

Photo courtesy Darien Public Schools District #61

by Diane Nelson & Mary Andersen

The sun gives us so much joy and happiness that people have been writing songs about it for generations. Well…great news!! Mark DeLay has harnessed some of that great energy in the form of brand new solar panels on the school roof! The district has installed solar panels at Mark DeLay to reduce its environmental impact and teach students about renewable energy. Teachers can then incorporate that information into lesson plans to teach students about energy and the environment.

Alexandre Edmond Becquerel is considered the father of solar panels, having discovered how electricity is generated from sunlight in 1839. That’s pretty “cool.” His work was integral during the Industrial Revolution as he helped with the construction of solar energy plants that heated water to create steam to power machinery.

Photo courtesy Darien Public Schools District #61

 There are many advantages to the use of solar panels. A big one is that they help to slow down or stop global warming. Global warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants. Another advantage is that solar panels help to save money. By harnessing the power of the sun, which can’t be purchased or monopolized, people are able to save money on electricity for their home, or in this case, our school. One more important advantage is that solar energy is reliable. We know that the sun is going to rise and set each day. Even with the scattering of clouds, we can certainly count on enough sunny days to be a huge benefit for the environment. Fossil fuels are limited and cannot be renewed. Aside from just the aforementioned benefits, solar panels tap into a key, limitless resource…the sun.

There is really only one disadvantage of solar panels and that’s the mere fact that the sun doesn’t shine 100% of the time. That means that when the sun isn’t shining, the solar panels can’t produce electricity. If you need energy when it is dark, you have to find another source. Another caveat to this disadvantage is that we use most of our electricity during the day when the sun is at its brightest. After all, we are humans, following the patterns of the sun, not nocturnal creatures.

Many of you may wonder how solar panels work. Good question! Well, solar panels collect solar radiation from the sun and convert it into electricity. The conversion of sunlight to usable electrical energy has also been called the “Photovoltaic Effect.” Another cool factoid about solar panels is that they contain no moving parts. This lends itself to their durability and low maintenance.

On Sept. 25, students at Mark DeLay Elementary School held a Solar-Bration to celebrate the four new solar panels that were donated to our school. Four organizations generously contributed to the project: Rob and Char Vuillaume from the Gift of Carl Foundation, the Darien Rotary Club, the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation, and the Solar Star Foundation of West Dundee.

Students learned about solar energy and renewable energy in the weeks leading up to the Solar-Bration. Some of the solar-related projects that students engaged in were:

·         reading and writing facts about the sun and about renewable energy;

·         watching solar energy beads change colors in ultraviolet light;

·         using Sun Art ultraviolet paper to make shadowgrams;

·         watching videos that explain how a photovoltaic (pv) solar panel system generates energy;

·         performing a reader’s theatre play where students act out how a pv system works;

·         tracking the kilowatts generated by the panels on a bar graph; and

·         singing “Mr. Sun” in music classes.

The pinnacle of the STEM-related solar project was the Solar-Bration. The entire school helped plan and participate in the event. Students paraded through the school wearing yellow shirts and each class was led by a student carrying a solar fact sign. The mascot was school social worker, Paul Black, who cheerfully donned a yellow “sun” costume and led the parade.

Principal Lisa Kompare was the master of ceremonies and greeted the audience. Second grade student, Kenrick, proudly held the flag while his mother sang a beautiful rendition of the national anthem. Tyler Spence, from Windfree Solar (the company that supplied the panels), gave a short presentation on how the panels work and on how the panels help keep the air clean. Electrician Mike Nicolosi, from Rethink Electric, was also on hand to answer questions about the panels. For the grand finale, all the students were led by music teacher, Sarah Kenealy, in singing “Mr. Sun.”

The whole community was invited to attend—families of our students, school board members, and all the generous donor organizations. Even the fire department attended with a firetruck and ambulance!

The Solar-Bration event was made even better by the attendance of—you guessed it—the sun! We had a wonderful warm and sunshiny day.

Diane Nelson and Mary Andersen teach at Mark DeLay Elementary school.