Professor Kareem Beckett starts the class “Principles of Engineering” at W. J. Keenan High School talking about light, photons, particles, waves, and frequency.
But this is just the beginning of what will culminate in the main subject of the day: solar energy.
What is solar energy? How do solar photovoltaic cells work? What is a solar panel? How can solar energy help the economy? How do I know the size of solar panels I need in my house?
These are just some questions discussed during the morning lesson, not only on paper, but also on site.
At the beginning of the school year, Keenan High School received a grant from Palmetto Clean Energy to install solar panels in the school.
One of executers of the project was LLE Construction Group, LLC.
“We had an awesome opportunity to build a solar panel system for the school,” said Lasenta Lewis-Ellis, owner of LLE Construction Group, LLC. “It serves two purposes, to educate students in the engineering and different programs in the school what it means to conserve energy and to produce energy, and it is also an opportunity for the School District to receive discounts through SCE&G.”
Beckett said that the solar panels give students the opportunity to get out there and put in practice what they learn in the classroom and through books.
“Last year the Profile of a South Carolina Graduate was released and the four 'Cs' were included: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity and Communication,” he said. “So the students are using those skills as they are learning about solar panel and gathering data.”
Amber Abraham is a student of many dreams. One of her biggest ones is to become an industrial designer.
“I think having solar panels here is a great experience because before I had basic knowledge of it, but now that I have been in the Engineering program I learned a lot more about how a solar panel works, how to calculate the voltage from it, and it has given me other experiences that will help me in my future,” she said.
15 years-old Annastacia Hammond, also a student in the class, agrees that this opportunity will be very beneficial to her future.
Indeed, Beckett believes the experience students at Keenan High School are gaining will make them better “twenty-first century learners and employees."
Furthermore, students are also gaining an understanding of the importance of solar energy to the environment.
Solar energy is the most abundant energy resource on earth. This is an advantage when compared to traditional fossil fuels used to generate electricity, which are scattered and finite. Besides, while solar energy is clean and pure, fossil fuels emit toxic gases that are the primary cause of pollution and global warming.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy website, the demand for solar energy in the United States is very high.
“Since 2008, U.S. installations have grown seventeen-fold from 1.2 gigawatts (GW) to an estimated 20 GW today. This is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 4 million average American homes.”
Additionally, the report shows that the price of solar panels is dropping every year.
“As of 2014, rooftop solar photovoltaic (PV) panels cost about 50% of what they did just three years ago. Since the beginning of 2010, the average cost of solar PV panels has dropped more than 60% and the cost of a solar electric system has dropped by about 50%.”
However, South Carolina ranks the state 34th in the country in installed solar capacity.
The State reported in 2012 that despite the abundance of sunshine, South Carolina was one of the least friendly states in the country due to “complicated laws, resistance from power companies, poor tax incentives and an emphasis on nuclear energy.”
In 2014, Governor Nikki Haley signed the Distributed Energy Resource Program Act, designed to open up the state for solar leasing with appropriate consumer protection regulations. As stated in CleanTechnica, "the South Carolina Solar law caims to make rooftop solar more accessible for homeowners. It allows utility companies to build solar installations in the state and recoup those costs, just like with other power plant installations."
Since then, many businesses and individuals have decided to use solar energy to power their houses and/or facilities.
Organizations like Palmetto Clean Energy (PaCE) continues to promote the development of renewable energy resources through pilot programs that provide matching grants to schools and other educational facilities interested in installing rooftop solar system, such as W. J. Keenan High School.
With this support, teenagers such as Amber Abraham and Annastacia Hammond will continue to learn about an energy system that is so important to build a more sustainable and stable planet in the future.