Earlier this school year, Oswego High School installed five ground-level solar panels in the greenhouse area for use by the science department. They are currently up and running in order to provide OHS students with science and analysis data for this school year’s science course curriculums, and will go on to be used as learning tools for future OHS students.
Throughout the fall and spring seasons of the last school year, OHS science teacher Zachary Horn, Assistant Principal William Nunamaker and science department chair Daniel Olandese were in the process of applying for solar panel grants.
The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and the Solar Star Foundation provided Oswego High School with grants to install solar panels at the school’s greenhouse. The solar panels were $75,000, but the grants covered a large majority of the costs, so the school only had to pay a few hundred dollars.
The idea for the installation of solar panels came from Zachary Horn. The idea behind the installations, essentially, was that the solar panels could be utilized as educational tools for the students at OHS.
“I filled out a bunch of, basically, questions and paperwork online about how we’re going to use the solar panels, how students are going to benefit, kind of where would we put the solar panels, and basically covered over 90% of the costs,” Horn said.
Nunamaker was also involved with the approval of the solar panel grant. He further explained how the solar panels would benefit science students.
“Mr. Horn wanted to use them for his class,” Nunamaker said. “We believe that it would be really helpful to our curriculum and economics for students to kind of see how that energy may help to influence what we’re able to do.”
One of the main purposes for installing the solar panels is so that students can analyze them and relate it back to the content of their science courses’s content. Classes such as Honors and Regular Earth and Space, Meteorology, and AP and Regular Environmental Science are among the classes that would most utilize the panels for data and analysis in the years to come.
“We have mini solar panels in the classrooms, and so students have done some experiments with those by putting different color film on it or blocking half of one to see how much that reduces power,” Olandese said. “The idea would be that if a student conducts an experiment in a classroom on a mini solar panel, they could then try to predict what would happen on the outside real solar panels and conduct the same experiments with them.”
Additionally, Olandese suggested that the solar panels could further be used by engineering and electricity-related courses at OHS to analyze how they work.
For students and teachers alike, climate change has been a big concern in recent years, which is also a contributing reason for the installation of the solar panels.
“From an environmental standpoint, there are no carbon emissions , so it helps solve climate change,” Horn said. “The other benefit, economically, is once they’re installed, it’s free energy basically. The sun doesn’t charge.”
The solar panels are currently at work and can be seen right in front of the school’s greenhouse. However, there were things to consider and alter before installing the panels.
“There were some details we had to put into place like they had to be visible so people could see them” Nunamaker said. “But for us, it worked out because we put them over by our greenhouse, so we could help use the energy for the greenhouse.”
Additionally, the fencing around the panels was financially covered by the school itself due to some concerns Nunamaker had.
“We had initially wanted to put them on the roof of the building, but we worked with our district to get a structural analysis and they weren’t super comfortable with them being on the roof,” Nunamaker said. “So we put them right in front, and then put a fence around them.”
The solar panels are under warranty for several years and are monitored online by the company that installed them to make sure they are working at all times. The website includes details of the system, the amount of energy produced, as well as a visual graph to represent the energy. This data is useful for students to utilize and learn from in science courses at OHS.
For now, only the greenhouse area is powered by solar panels. Whether the district decides to install more solar panels in the future, Horn is not certain, but it’s definitely a possibility for the future.