Pillsbury celebrates solar panels May 17

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May 9, 2011 // UPDATED 9:35 am - May 16, 2011
By: Andre Eggert
Andre Eggert

Solar panels provide education and savings for schools

With new solar panels installed seven months ago, Pillsbury Elementary School is embracing green technology while also providing students with a new learning opportunity.

Pillsbury was among four Minneapolis schools to benefit from Walmart Foundation’s $1.2-million donation to the National Energy Education Development Project, along with South High School, Seward Montessori and Floyd B. Olson Middle School. The schools were chosen because of their strong science programs and geographic distribution throughout the city, assistant facilities director Clyde Kane said.

Kane said the solar panel installation completed near the end of November. A celebration of the project was scheduled for early December, but a powerful storm canceled the event and it was rescheduled for May 17.

Minneapolis was among five cities across the United States to receive such funding from Walmart. Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington, D.C. were the others chosen.

The solar panels are part of a broader effort to apply classroom concepts to the real world, said Joe Alfano, K–5 science specialist for Minneapolis Public Schools.

Students are first shown models in class, such as miniature houses with small photovoltaic cells to show how solar energy works. Then, they can use what they learned and see how the panels function in the real world.

Students can monitor the amount of energy the school is getting from the panels and see how that fluctuates over time. They also can compare the performance of their school’s solar panels to other installed on schools across the United States.

The project is part of a broader green teaching initiative that also includes information recycling, organics and rainwater collection. It is meant to promote students making a difference.

“We could teach a lot of doom and gloom about [the environment], but that builds despair and makes kids feel hopeless,” Alfano said. “Showing projects that get kids involved … is a more hopeful way to explore these challenges.”

The solar panels aren’t just an opportunity to teach kids. They’re also a money saver.

Though the panels are small — only about five kilowatts — they are already proving useful. The site at Floyd B. Olson Middle School has saved nearly $1,200 since the beginning of the year and kept around 4,300 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere, Kane said. South High School has saved nearly $1,500 this year and kept nearly 5,300 pounds of emissions from being released.

The district plans to add more solar panels in the future, Alfano said. That will come when more funding is made available.