Solar panels provide teaching opportunity at Granite District schools

Published: Monday, June 6 2011 2:42 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — A third school in the Granite School District is now getting solar panels for its roof. But the power the panels will provide isn't the main reason they've been installed.

Solar panels at Olympus Junior High School, Woodrow Wilson Elementary and Matheson Junior High will provide enough power to take care of anywhere between two and five classrooms at each school, depending on the weather conditions and how many computers are in those classrooms.

"It will definitely help, but what we are most excited about is the educational aspect," said Doug Smith, who is with energy management in the Granite District.

He said students will be able to track the power usage through their three systems and have access to the 70 others throughout the state. They will measure the effects of temperature and location on the energy output.

"Solar panels actually work better the colder they are," said Smith.

Smith said the district got the money for the panels through federal grants. He said power is cheaper in Utah than other states, and solar panels are not very cost-effective right now. Without tax credits that businesses and residences get, it doesn't make as much financial sense for a school district to get them.

"Our goal in energy management is best use of taxpayer dollars when it comes to energy consumption," he said.

Still, Smith said if more grants become available, the district will consider acquiring more solar panel systems.

The solar panels will be easily visible through windows, so students can observe them safely.

The Solar for Schools energy program is already at Hillside Middle School in Salt Lake City.

The solar photovoltaic arrays will be placed on the roof of at least one school in each of Utah's 41 school districts to generate renewable energy for the schools and teach schoolchildren about energy efficiency and alternatives.

The Solar for Schools program was designed and funded by the Utah State Energy Program and made possible by $3 million of federal money awarded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

E-mail: mrichards@desnews.com

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