GLOUCESTER – After Kathy Autrey attended a Dominion Energy workshop on wind energy, she learned the company was accepting applications for its Solar for Students program. It caught her interest.
“I loved the idea of students learning about renewable energy and the impact that could have on their lives,” said Autrey, a first-grade teacher at Abingdon Elementary School in Gloucester.
So, with much support and assistance, she submitted an application in March 2022. Three months later, Abingdon was chosen to be part of the program, which offers students the opportunity to learn firsthand about solar energy. The National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project is the administrator of the program and works with Dominion Energy to install solar panels at each school, provide technical support, and prepare educational materials for students and teachers. A “solarbration” was held March 21 with representatives from Dominion Energy and Gloucester County Public Schools, including faculty, staff, and students from Abingdon, on hand.
“These are events that are really fun for me to go to,” said Tim Eberly, a Dominion Energy representative. “If the solarbration events are any indication, the kids really love the program.”
The educational aspects don’t end with the installation of the solar panels. Dominion Energy provides educational materials and curriculum, including hands-on activities, along with training for teachers to run the program at each school. The solar panels are connected to visual displays inside the school to show, in real time, how much power is being generated. Apps for phones also are available.
Eberly said those displays feature concepts that are easy to understand; for example showing the solar panels generated enough energy to power a TV set for three hours.
“It gives you these cool conversions that kids can wrap their head around, and it’s not talking in language that they don’t understand, like megawatts,” he said.
Autrey said students are excited to track the data each day.
At some of the solarbrations, the kids will speak.
“They like to talk about how it kind of blows their mind (that) energy from the sun can create electricity,” Eberly said.
The program started in 2013 with four schools. A handful of schools are added each year, with the total now at more than 40 schools, one nonprofit educational organization, and one museum.
“We’re basically wanting to teach students K through 12 about how solar energy is generated, to teach them about solar power,” Eberly said. “At Dominion, we’re really focused on moving in the direction of renewable energy and clean energy. This is kind of one branch from that. So that was sort of the impetus for it.”
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