A hand shot up in the midst of a recent classroom presentation on renewable energy. “Do you need to clean the solar panels on your big projects?” an inquisitive high school freshman asked the instructor.
The answer: Dust reduces efficiency by less than half a percent, so it’s not worth using precious water resources to clean them.
Generating energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing is a growing part of how utilities power their communities – which is why Tucson Electric Power has launched a new program to help high school students learn about renewable energy resources.
“We realized students probably have a lot of questions about this technology and its role in the environment,” said Jennifer Cox, TEP’s Education Outreach Representative. “We’re already in the schools, teaching second graders about electrical safety and middle school students about how to save energy, so we realized that we had an opportunity to engage high school students about energy choices.”
“It’s a key time in their development when they’re really beginning to have more environmental awareness and when they’re starting to think about their role in the workforce. An introduction to these concepts now might possibly spark an interest in future sustainability careers.”
TEP began offering Renewable Students last year as a pilot program and evaluated the results from 100 presentations in school districts across the community. Based on feedback from teachers and students, the program is now official, with capacity for up to 125 presentations in 2020.
In one recent freshman physics class at Empire High School, the students worked on handheld white boards in small groups to answer pop quizzes and peppered the instructor with questions: How long does it take for a solar system to pay for itself? (That varies by system.) Can you store energy from solar? (Yes, but the technology is still young, so batteries are still too small to replace our traditional energy systems.)
The 55-minute interactive program, aligned with state science standards, uses smartphones and emulates familiar social media platforms to share the history and science of renewable energy.
Teacher Michael Frank said he found value in the program. “It fit in well with our physics unit on energy and complemented other class activities as well,” he said, adding the social media approach presented information in a way familiar to students.
Teacher Lisa Daconta scheduled a presentation last year for her students at Andrada Polytechnic Academy and was pleased by the level of engagement in the class.
“I think it’s interesting to them because it’s something they hear a lot about in the news. We’re all being bombarded with so much information about the steps we need to take in order to preserve the planet and there’s a lot of confusion and mixed emotions about what that means and how policies impact decisions,” Daconta said. “At the high school age, they’re really just a short number of years away from voting. Programs like this help to give them context and help them better understand what’s really a pretty complex issue.”
Education is one of TEP’s areas of focus for community support. In addition to reaching about 14,000 students each year through our in-classroom energy programs, TEP also supports Teachers in Industry, Tucson Values Teachers and annual back-to-school events, as well as funding for field trips to Children’s Museum Tucson and placing dozens of college and high school interns throughout our departments.
Spring scheduling is underway for all three classroom presentation programs. Please visit https://www.tep.com/education/ for more information.