Classrooms crank up energy-saving projects

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 30 2008 12:05 a.m. MST

Alex Rivera wipes down a solar-powered watercraft during electronics class at Hunter High in West Valley City. The class is building multiple test watercrafts.

Courtney Sargent, Deseret News

In a changing world, future job opportunities may be in the energy conservation field, and today's educators want to make sure students are ready.

Teachers are emphasizing energy education, especially with hands-on projects.

School officials across the state are allowing wind turbines to be constructed on their campuses. Students at other schools are working on energy-saving inventions.

Children at Three Peaks Elementary School in Cedar City watched workers break ground for their turbine in October. Officials with Utah Clean Energy are selecting a Granite School District elementary school for a turbine to be built next summer.

The wind devices save electricity for the school buildings and serve as a learning opportunity for children and neighbors.

A $36,000 grant from the Utah State Office of Education, via the Rocky Mountain Power Blue Sky for Community Renewable Energy Projects, paid for the two turbines.

The Granite elementary selection will include a turbine placed on a pole ranging from 33 feet to 60 feet in height.

At Three Peaks, the 45-foot-tall pole will be topped with a Skystream 3.7 turbine with 12-foot rotors. A device by Fat Spaniel Technologies will keep track of the electricity produced by the turbine.

Three Peaks Principal Tim Taylor estimates the school's electric bill will go down possibly by one-fourth. "Wind is an excellent source of power," he said.

Three Peaks teachers are preparing environmental-based learning activities for students. The PTA donated 600 kite kits for spring.

The turbines at the schools will provide 400 kilowatt hours of electricity per month if there is a steady 12 mph wind, according to Sara Baldwin, community programs and policy associate with Utah Clean Energy, a nonprofit organization working to advance energy efficiency and clean renewable energy technologies across Utah.

The National Energy Foundation, contracted through the State Energy Program, is providing free curriculum for schools with turbines.

Greg Libecci, Granite District energy specialist, said the district is interested in being progressive and looking at alternative energy. "Besides the benefit of reducing electric bills, perhaps the wind turbine project will capture the imagination of students and help lead them to a sustainable energy future," Libecci said.

Milford Elementary School already has wind turbines, thanks to the work of an ambitious teacher there, Andrew Swapp. He said he estimates the school will save up to $1,800 per year on its electric bill.

Teens at Hunter High School are constructing a solar-electric, high-performance personal watercraft using an $8,000 grant from Lemelson-MIT. The watercraft is powered by lithium batteries and can run two to four hours.

"The students are seeing how engineering is done in the real world," said Scott Watson, Hunter High electronics instructor and InvenTeam adviser. InvenTeams are groups of students, teachers and mentors who receive grants up to $10,000 each to invent technological solutions to real-world problems.

Hunter's InvenTeam is one of 16 nationwide selected for the grant. The teens will work with Salt Lake Community College, the University of Utah and Utah Valley University to design the watercraft prototype. It is supposed to be capable of reaching speeds of 25 mph.

In June, the students will showcase their invention at EurekaFest at MIT in Cambridge, Mass.


E-mail: astewart@desnews.com

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