(OnFocus) Auburndale students are getting a hands-on look at solar energy with Mid-State Technical College.
Thanks to a $25,000 grant through the Bayer Fund (formerly the Monsanto Fund), Auburndale High School will be able to power its student-built school forest shelter completely with solar technology.
“It will be a zero-energy building,” said Mark Cournoyer, Agriscience Instructor.
Students enrolled in the renewable energy technician program at Mid-State Technical College were involved with the project from start to finish, from the initial site assessment to the design, before installing the solar panels alongside the Auburndale students as a mutual learning opportunity.
“One of our fundamental goals here is education and demonstration,” Ben Nusz, renewable energy instructor. “We want to highlight these particular technologies and demonstrate how they will function in places like central Wisconsin.”
Mid-State students have helped install solar-powered heating and electric systems at other area schools including Lincoln High School, John Edwards High School, Nekoosa Middle and High Schools, Wisconsin Rapids Area Middle School, Almond Bancroft School District, and Assumption High School.
The 17 kilowatt system at Auburndale will collect the sun’s energy and heat up an antifreeze solution to provide hot water in the kitchen and bathroom and also partially heat the space. A second design is a solar electric system which will provide all of the building’s electricity.
Additionally, a wind turbine will power a light for a donated flag pole to be installed this summer. Besides saving money on solar energy, the Auburndale School District will be able to generate electricity to sell on the grid.
Through the project, Auburndale students learned how solar skills are transferable to other jobs, which include electrician or plumber. Solar skills are also in-demand: In 2016, The Solar Foundation reported that 1 in 50 jobs was solar related, and the field is only expected to grow.
Part of the growth of solar energy can be attributed to falling costs. “Ten years ago [solar panels] cost about $10 a watt. Now they cost $2.50 a watt,” said Nusz. “As the cost of these things goes down the payback gets shorter and shorter, which means significant savings for those that invested in solar energy.”
Even with dark winters, Wisconsin is a viable location for solar energy since panels produce enough energy in summer to compensate for reduced sunlight other times of the year. To put it in perspective, he said, the state receives more sun than Germany, which is one of the world leaders in solar energy.
Nusz is able to produce nearly all of his home’s electricity from solar panels, and between 80-90% of his heating. And since it’s a clean energy source, solar doesn’t release carbon emissions.
“The other benefit is that this is the most local source of energy that we can produce,” he said.
Wisconsin spent $14.4 billion as of 2016 on coal, natural gas, and petroleum products according to a study published in February by think-tank COWS at UW-Madison.
“If we can generate this power and this energy locally, then that money stays in the state, and that’s a good thing,” said Nusz.