The solar SunFlower at the Leo A. Palmiter Jr./Sr. High School campus vaguely resembles an actual flower. However, both Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) and SMUD officials hope the towering solar collector will help cultivate an increasing interest in math and science for middle and high school students.
Funded by SMUD's voluntary Community Solar Program, the SunFlower was installed at the 7th-through-12th-grade Arden area site serving two campuses: Palmiter provides education for special needs students with the primary disability of Emotional Disturbance (ED). Elinor Lincoln Hickey Jr./Sr. High School is a community school providing students an opportunity to continue their education and experience a significant, positive change in their lives.
The 18-foot-high SunFlower, unveiled at a ceremony on October 1, is topped by six solar panels able to generate a total of 400 watts of electricity. Using the SunFlower as an outdoor learning lab, students can rotate the panels to different positions and then see how much electricity the sun produces. Students will also be able to plug iPods, laptops, and other electronics into the SunFlower through an array of ports, including 12-volt and USB outlets.
"We are excited about this project on many levels," said Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David W. Gordon. "Not only are we adding a renewable energy component to our math and science curriculum, we are also helping our students gain insight into the possible job opportunities generated by solar energy."
After turning the solar panels, using a giant wheel, and adjusting the angle of the panels, students can study gauges to determine changes in the voltage and current being generated. The energy readings are then stored in a digital data recorder, which uploads the information to a website where students can use the data to perform calculations and conduct experiments.
"To see students' reactions and to hear the questions they ask about the technology is worth every cent of the cost," said Brent Sloan, SMUD project manager for the SunFlower. "The SunFlower delivers practical knowledge. Their curiosity is instant. You can see the wheels turning in their thought processes in ways that they probably wouldn't if this were only theoretical."
SMUD is partnering on Community Solar SunFlower projects with the Sacramento City, Elk Grove, San Juan, and Twin Rivers Unified school districts, as well SCOE.
Funding for the SunFlowers comes from customers who voluntarily contribute to the Community Solar Program which uses solar energy and solar installations to raise awareness of solar energy's role in the community and its place in the environment.