The power of Sun

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:47

    WARWICK-On a day as sunny as Monday, April 18, the recently installed solar panels atop Warwick Valley Central High School could have powered the school's computers. Linda Anne Burtis, the statewide coordinator for New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, was among the speakers at the official dedication of NYSERDA's School Power Naturally program at Warwick. "We had 100 percent pollution-free power on the roof of the school running your computers," she said. Warwick is one of 50 schools statewide selected to participate in the program. Acceptance is based on how well schools meet the criteria for location, size and so on, as well as the quality of the school's application and engineering. In addition to the solar panels and associated electrical equipment, the school receives detailed lesson plans. Science teacher Kelly Ross, the advisor for the school's Environmental Club, explained how the system works. Some 16 panels mounted on the school's roof provide 2 kilowatts of power at maximum sunlight. This is enough to run 20 100-watt bulbs, he said, not a lot in the mix of electricity used by a school. However, he said, the output represents about a third of the power used in the average home. The panels are monitored and the results are posted on a Web site where students, faculty or any interested person can view them, Ross said. The site offers information on the amount of energy being generated as well as the reduction in carbon dioxide, sulfuric oxide and nitrous oxide achieved by using the sun for power. He showed slides of the computer screen, illustrating how much sun the school received on Monday. Points on the graph represent readings at 15-minute intervals. The panels, installed last July, cost the school $1,500. They are worth about $20,000 on the open market, Ross explained. "We got $20,000 worth of equipment at minimal cost, and it will still be producing electricity 30 years from now," he said. One highlight of the program was a viewing of the Newburgh Free Academy's solar car, which won second place in a national race this year, and has placed first in past competitions. The machine is capable of more than 60 mph. At 47 mph the sunlight coming in almost exactly balances the power going out, explained Richard Ventola, a student at NFA. This year, the machine came in second, behind Mississippi in a track race, said Kaitlyn Calaluce, also a student at NFA. The machine carries eight batteries, lead-acid units similar to car batteries but faster charging, according to NFA teacher Christopher Eachus. "If we didn't have those, every time we passed under a bridge we would stop dead," he said. The NFA students did not bring their latest project, a solar bike. School and community leaders were obviously proud that their school was chosen to participate in this competitive program. "In 1969 a famous phrase was coined: "One small step for a man, a great step forward for mankind,'" said school principal Richard Phebus. "You could say the same about solar power - it's the future energy source as we go forward. You young people are the people who will move ahead in this new field." "We old folks are addicted to fossil fuels," said Warwick Supervisor Michael Sweeton. "Our young people will lead us to solutions to the problems that have plagued us about energy. They will wean us from our addiction. The fact that Warwick was one of only 50 schools chosen in the state speaks volumes about the quality of our schools." School Board President Kurt Emmerich said that as an engineer he has worked with NYSERDA and "they are passionate about ways to see things differently, to save energy and to find innovative ideas." When Ed Satler, the former advisor to the Environmental Club, approached the board for permission to apply for the program - and approve the contracts and funding to join it - "we said unanimously, ‘get it done.'" Assistant Principal John Buckley, who served as master of ceremonies said the school outreach project will raise awareness for industry, state officials, students and school officials, and "that's the purpose of this type of project."