Final phase of Green Energy Resource Lab underway
A 2-year-old student-initiated green project has taken another step forward in the Shawnee Mission School District.
Doug Moles, a Shawnee Mission West science teacher, recently received approval to place a working model wind turbine at the school, the final step in creating the Shawnee Mission West Green Energy Resource Lab, which also includes solar panels atop the school.
The turbine is a first for the Shawnee Mission School District and the area.
Creating the Green Energy Resource Lab was the idea of students in Moles’ Science and Survival class two years ago. The students have since graduated but Moles carried on the idea that has steadily become reality.
“We talked about climate change, carbon dioxide emissions and wind and solar power,” he said. “The students asked if we could have solar panels and a working model of a wind turbine at the school.”
Creating the Energy Lab wasn’t a cakewalk for Moles or the school district. The turbine would have to be 60 feet tall in order to receive an uninterrupted, constant stream of wind. Because the turbine will be visible from its location, permits were required from the city of Overland Park, lengthening the process, Moles said.
Gene Johnson, Shawnee Mission superintendent, became involved with the project while he was still associate superintendent.
“You can’t just put it up, you have to have approval from city and those providing the financial part,” Johnson said.
And for the past two years that’s exactly what Moles has done, attending city meetings, school board meetings and putting together informational meetings for the community.
“There were three weeks were I had a meeting every Monday night,” Moles said of the process. “One week it was the city’s planning commission, then the city council and finally the school board. The next morning the turbine was ordered.”
The city approved a five-year special use permit for the project.
Moles put together a presentation for each meeting, detailing what the lab would consist of, how it would work and what impact, if any, it would have on the community.
Funding for the project came easily after one of Moles’ early presentations.
A representative for the Kansas Energy Commission was in attendance and donated $15,000 on the spot, Moles said. The funds were to be split between the solar panels and the wind turbine.
With the donation in hand, Moles applied for several grants and funding for the project and it began to come together.
The group received a grant of $3,500 from the Shawnee Mission Excellence in Education fund, $5,000 from the Shawnee Mission West capital outlay fund, $10,000 in district funds, $10,000 from the district’s Operations & Maintenance fund, $500 from the Shawnee Mission West PTSA, and $3,200 from a student fundraiser selling cookie dough.
The solar energy panels were installed atop the school in March 2008. They were fully functional a month later.
Because the panels are not visible from their location, the process for installing them was much easier than the wind turbine.
One setback in the process came with the proposed location of the turbine. The area for the turbine was being used to house construction trailers for most of the last year and a half, Moles said.
The trailers were moved in August and the first ground core sample was taken, to determine the viability of the area between the high school and softball fields.
HOW IT WORKS
Inverters on both the solar panels and the turbine convert the original direct current to alternating current, said Moles. Then the inverter analyzes the grid fluctuations and cycle and the power is introduced to the grid.
The solar arrays capture energy by using the sun’s electromagnetic rays, and the wind turbine, which harnesses wind energy in the air, converts the mechanical energy into electrical energy, Moles said.
Because the solar panels and turbine are working models, they have no significant impact on the school or surrounding areas. Rather, they are a teaching tool for students to learn the conversion of energy and how alternative energy sources will play out in the future.
“It was very forward-thinking of students two years ago,” Moles said.
Since these are working models the information is then sent to Web sites for the solar panels and turbine.
“We can access the production day-by-day, real-time data,” Moles said. “The lab offers hands-on learning tools and real-time applications for science classes.”
Shawnee Mission West will be the first school in the district to offer a program of this nature, Moles said.
“Integrated technology means while other schools might want a similar green energy resource tool, they can access and analyze our data using SunnyPortal/Fat Spaniel programs,” Moles said of the program’s benefits.
The solar panel data can be tracked at sunnyportal.com/Templates/PublicPageOverview.aspx?plant=285b346d-2124-4f5c-81c1-c28c034cc042&splang=en-US. The Web site for the turbine will be available once the installation is finished.
Johnson said the lab “will certainly give the students at Shawnee Mission West the opportunity to get some on-the-job practice and education about wind energy.”
The Energy Lab also teaches students valuable information on current events and future careers.
Moving away from fossil fuel dependence has been at the forefront of issues lately, whether it be in the presidential election or the high fuel prices of the past summer.
“Implementing technology such as photovoltaic solar cells and wind turbines in an educational setting fulfills our district and school mission of preparing our students to meet the challenges of the future,” Moles said.
Once the turbine is installed, Moles plans to create lesson plans that integrate the information into the classroom.
Moles said the lab extends beyond science, as well. Courses such as math will benefit from it because students can calculate the amount of energy needed from the turbine to power a room in the building.
The district is leading by example with the new lab.
“Obviously we are very interested in the district in being as judicious as we can with energy, this is one way to help our students understand that there are alternatives in the way we get our energy currently,” Johnson said.
THE NEXT STEP
Moles placed an order for the turbine Dec. 11, after the school board approved the project. Moles said it would take about 10 weeks for the actual turbine to arrive.
Over winter break the contracted company, Wind Ridge Energy Systems, was to break ground on the foundation for the placement of the turbine. However, with temperatures in the mid 40s and 50s, digging was postponed.
“With the digging unit being 46 tons, you need either really dry ground or frozen ground to put a 46-ton drilling unit on that ground,” Moles said. “If it’s wet or muddy, the drilling rig would get stuck.”
After the cement is poured, it will take approximately one month to cure before the turbine can be erected.
“We hope to have it up, running and functioning by the end of February,” Moles said.
So what’s next for the Green Energy Resource Lab once the turbine is finished?
“Well Nova talked of a steam-powered turbine, it could power a city of hundreds of thousands,” Moles said.
While the lab may not be ready for a steam-powered turbine, Moles said the next step was educating students on alternative energy.
“With job cuts and recession, alternative energy is a viable option for future employment,” Moles said. “We talk about climate change, and I think that a lot of people want to leave the world a better place when they leave as when they came.”