The sun’s rays beat down and heat up the pavement and bring sweat beading on your brow. They send you running for shade and a bit of relief, but it could mean more. It could mean a more sustainable energy source for our schools, and it could even mean more money in the school’s coffers. With the implementation of solar panels, those rays could mean a brighter future.
According to a group of McIntosh High students, the school is uniquely positioned to take advantage of the alternative energy wave and turn the sun’s rays into solar energy. McIntosh students Ted Lord, Max Roggermeier, Zack Stone, Robert Palla, Jahan Randeria, Man Shah, and Junwei Chang presented their findings to the Board of Education at their May 20 meeting.
Lord was inspired to study the feasibility by one little light. In front of McIntosh, there is a flag pole with a solar powered light, and that triggered Lord to wonder, if we can power that light, why not the whole school, and the group launched the study to find out why not.
“McIntosh is a school of forward-thinking students that results in constant innovation,” said Lord. “There is a unique excellence is cemented in the foundation of McIntosh, and it is this excellence that has inspired us to think that we can change our school’s power. We believe that McIntosh can, should, and will be solar powered.”
Currently, nearly 5,500 K-12 schools around the country use solar power, and they think their school would be perfect to join the club. The school roof itself, with its huge surface area, is a perfect platform. In addition to the traditional roof panels, solar awnings could be installed in the parking lot that would also provide shade, shelter from inclement weather, and electricity for power golf carts or other electric vehicles.
There are key ecological benefits. Because solar panels utilize energy coming from the sun, they are zero emission, along with self-sustainable.
Educational benefits could be limitless with opportunities to tied into the science and math curriculum. Students could be engaged in developing a plan of execution from a business perspective, including those already working on solar power projects as part of their STEM studies. They can learn how the panels themselves function or use mathematics in studying installation and maintenance costs.
Solar power provides a major long-term financial boost to the school system. In the same manner that the school system laid out large up-front cost to put artificial turf athletic fields at each high school because they save money in the long run, solar power would do the same.
McIntosh spent just over $475,000 on electricity for the 2017-18 school year. With an estimated installation price tag of $2.67 million spread over three years, the school should see a return on its investment in six to seven years.
“If we proceed with this solar initiative, an entire high school could be paying literally nothing for electricity,” said Zack Stone. “The sooner we act, the better.”
During the summer months when the sun beats down its hardest and the school will need power the least, the school could make money by selling energy back into the grid.
“Essentially, with the availability of panels and the low cost of installation, we are losing money by not having solar electricity at McIntosh.”
By the time the Class of 2025 graduates, McIntosh could be spending zero dollars on electricity. In turn, the power savings could be re-allocated for any number of other school system expenditures.
“Without electricity bills, McIntosh will have freed up funds that can be put towards a variety of positive uses, including money towards hands-on student projects, expanded budgets for teacher spending, or any other financial needs that may arise,” said Stone.
Additionally, there are federal grants available to help defray the initial costs. Alternately, there are also Power Purchase Agreements where private companies will install and maintain the panels.
For a tangible example, the group reached out to Crowne Plaza, which is in the process of going solar. They purchased 1,600 solar panels for their complex with just over $1 million spent, in a year-long process they called “very smooth” that did not interfere with normal business. Crowne Plaza management expects they will see a return on their investment in six to seven years.
McIntosh could also serve for a role model for other schools. If it is done successfully there, the school system would have a blueprint to follow at their other buildings. Solar power could then be incorporated from the outset in designing the new building for J.C. Booth Middle School.
“Becoming a solar school will accelerate the transition to sustainable energy in the future for other schools as well,” said Man Shah. “It will be a good role model for other Fayette County schools and metro Atlanta schools.”
Max Roggermeier concurred.
“Powering McIntosh would carve a path for other schools and be able to leapfrog new buildings, such as Booth, into smarter and more sustainable designs,” he said. “McIntosh can stand as not only an example to Fayette County, but, with the spread of solar technology, I know that it can stand as an example to the nation.”
Superintendent Dr. Jody Barrow was impressed by the presentation. After the meeting, he planned to sit down with Lord and McIntosh Principal Dr. Dan Lane to continue the conversation.
“I would like to commend the group for practicing the skills and attributes we work to help all of our young people develop; that is, the ability to think critically, the ability to communicate well, the ability to collaborate with others and the ability to create positive solutions,” said Barrow.
Barrow said he is a believer in developing alternative energy sources for the county schools, but full solar energy would likely be a step farther down the line.
“I actually do support alternative energy source creation for our country and environment. In my prior district, we implemented an energy savings project and shifted all building lighting, internal and external, to LED. Significant energy savings were achieved,” he said. “As we have done facility renovations in Fayette County Public Schools, we have upgraded and installed LED lighting. Not only is LED a better light source, it uses less energy and consequently creates less heat, which also lessens the need for more electricity for air conditioning. I think the transition to LED lighting would probably need to be the first step, but yes, when that objective had been accomplished, I could see the district considering plans for a solar project proposal.”
Barrow agreed that the presentation showed why solar energy is a compelling option, but as a full conversion would be a massive undertaking, it is a process that would take time.
“The basic concept shared by our students was very solid, and they covered a lot of the ‘why’ solar should be considered as an energy source,” he said. “There is much more work to be done in the planning and preparation for a project of this nature. Putting solar panels on an individual home is considerably less difficult than installing a solar farm on a public building. This would most definitely be a capital project and a significant investment for any public entity.”
Roggermeier is confident McIntosh his school can be a trendsetter. Through a year-long project in a STEM program and through his collaboration with the presenting group, he has become a believer.
“McIntosh currently leads the county in test scores, and I know that they can lead the county in the application of this cutting-edge, 21st century technology,” he said. “I ask you this, what do you want McIntosh to be? What do you want Fayette County to be? What do you want to be? Because I know what I want to be. I want to be the future
“It is just a matter of putting it into place. If not for the educational opportunities, if not for the environmental benefits, if not for the savings, then do it for this, the McIntosh that I see, not the McIntosh that stands now, but McIntosh the way it can be. A McIntosh that leads and inspires it students to be creative and be innovative and be passionate and work hard to change the world for the better. Do it for that. It is here, and it is now, and it is possible, and I know that we can do it.”