The sky – actually the sun – is the limit for students at Underwood Elementary School.
With support from teachers and parent volunteers, Underwood students are raising money to install a solar energy system on the roof of the school, which is located in the Five Points neighborhood. The system would provide a power source for one classroom.
Parent volunteer James Ward started an IndieGoGo campaign online in an effort to raise $5,000, which will be matched by Green Power of North Carolina, where he works in sales.
Underwood administrators have given the go-ahead for the project, but it still needs approval from the Wake County school board. It’s not clear when the board will consider the project.
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“It’s all about getting (solar energy) into the kids’ hands and letting them explore it,” said Ward, who uses a small solar system at his home.
Solar systems collect energy from the sun, and that energy can be used in place of other power sources, including electricity. It’s considered the cleanest form of energy.
Systems can store energy or use it in real time. Underwood, which is a magnet school, wants a system that will use the sun’s energy immediately to power a classroom and reduce utility costs.
The system would feature software that will allow students to monitor the panels.
In 2010, Daniels Middle School in Raleigh was selected to participate in a solar pilot project created by Progress Energy. The school received a small solar panel that is still in use.
But no other schools in the Wake County system use solar energy, and solar power is not included in construction plans for future schools, said Wake schools spokesman Michael Yarbrough.
Central Park School for Children, a charter school in Durham, has a similar solar system to the one Underwood is working toward. Jordan High School, also in Durham, is raising money for a system.
Underwood has taken on several projects related to a cleaner environment in recent years. The school has a composting system and indoor plants to improve air quality, and teachers encourage students to bring water samples from home for testing.
Such projects have already helped students become better scientists, said Patrick Miller, a fourth-grade science teacher at Underwood. A solar system will give students other ways to see how math and science can be used in their lives.
“(The students are) really doing a good job learning about the scientific process,” Miller said. “They’re asking really good questions, and that’s really neat.”
Solar energy projects have boomed in North Carolina in the last few years because of state and federal incentives.
North Carolina currently has 1,088 megawatts of solar energy installed by private owners across the state, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, a nonprofit that advocates for solar energy. That’s enough to power up to 116,000 homes.
Last year, $652 million was invested in solar installations across the state.
Want to help?
Donate money to Underwood Elementary School’s solar project at http://bit.ly/1TD9ICp.