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Harnessing power from the sun
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Sixth-grader Thomas Carter holds a LED lamp lit by solar energy while classmate Takota Moore examines the solar panel. - photo by Lacy Garrison

Warren County Middle School students in Jeff Watson’s science classes learned about the power and potential of solar energy Tuesday from School Board member Bill Zechman.

The hands-on science demonstration showed how the sun’s rays can be collected in a portable solar panel. The energy can be stored in a high-efficiency lithium-ion battery and then used for a variety of purposes, including lighting and recharging the student’s iPhones and Chromebooks.

“This panel has no moving parts so you don’t have energy lost to friction and you don’t have maintenance costs like you do with something like your car,” said Zechman. “The other thing is you don’t have to give it oil, gasoline, or natural gas because it uses only energy from the sun.”

Since students couldn’t hear or see anything when the panel was plugged in, a volt reader showed it was receiving energy from the sun. Among exercises, several students stood in front of the solar panel to simulate clouds moving overhead to visualize the panel’s output in real time.

“If I wanted to use a solar panel to produce electricity for my home, what would I do on a cloudy day or at night?” Zechman asked the students.

Answered sixth-grader Thomas Carter, “Store it.”

To reiterate this point, Zechman took the inverter and output from the battery pack and channeled all the energy collected from the sun during his 30-minute lesson into an LED lamp. Many students were impressed to see it illuminate.

When asked what they learned from Zechman’s presentation, a couple of students spoke up.

“Photovoltaics is better because sunshine is free so it’s a lot cheaper,” said Takota Moore. “I could see myself using it when I’m older for my home.”

Added Thomas Carter, “I liked learning how the panel is made of elements with two large, thin sheets of silicon and phosphorus.”

The principles of sustainability were also explained to the students and the responsibility of leaving the natural environment in good or better condition for the future. Solar energy, besides being free and non-polluting, is a better economic proposition, Zechman noted, than non-renewable sources like coal.