Switching to solar at Clyde Quay School01/10/2014
A schoolwide science inquiry has inspired students to think about sustainability concepts.
The future is looking bright at Clyde Quay School, where solar panels have been installed to soak up the Wellington sunshine. Nestled on the edge of the central city in Mount Victoria, Clyde Quay is the one of the latest in a group of schools to install solar panels under Genesis Energy’s SchoolGen scheme.
Year 7 and 8 teacher Leon Davidson says his students had shown great interest in and commitment to environmental principles earlier in the year, during a school-wide inquiry topic called ‘Our Environment.’
“In class, we were exploring energy efficiency, eco-building, and design, and thinking about sustainability,” he says.
The inquiry unit got students thinking deeply about their impact on the environment and what they could do to make their school a more eco-friendly place. Around this time, Leon attended a breakfast event to learn about Genesis Energy’s new partnership with Wellington City Council and what was involved in signing up to the scheme.
“The background to us getting solar panels at the school was really that the students had explored the ideas behind sustainable energy and how they could improve their environmental footprint,” says Leon.
Later, Genesis Energy visited the school to check its viability for the SchoolGen project, and with Leon’s encouragement, his students worked hard to put together a winning proposal: ‘Why Clyde Quay School needs solar energy.’ The 4 kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system was installed at the school in May 2014.
The PV system allows the school to generate a portion of its electricity from the sun, and provides the ideal opportunity for students to learn about renewable energy.
Much of the science learning around the solar panels has come from the ability to track and influence how much energy is being used at Clyde Quay.
Heating and lighting are the main energy consumers in a school, and as such need to be carefully examined. Schoolgen provides a website on which the real time data generation from the solar panels at participating schools is displayed and can be compared.
Student action: Envirogroup
A dedicated and hardworking bunch of students known as the ‘Envirogroup’ meet in the lunch break. Part of their role is to oversee the monitoring and reporting of the school’s electricity usage. Energy monitors check power is not being wasted by heaters or lights left on unnecessarily. Students have made visual reminders beside light switches, heaters, and power outlets, and regular reporting back at school assemblies has created a genuine shift in the way the students and teachers think about it.
Leon believes that the benefits of being a solar-powered school go far wider than just the classroom. As well as reducing emissions, the proposal for and installation of the panels created good classroom discussion, and the students’ enthusiasm for solar energy spread throughout the community.
The process of becoming a Schoolgen school was long but very rewarding, agree senior students and Envirogroup members Stella McGuinness (Year 7) and Millie Rea (Year 8).
“It took a long time to organise everything and we had to get permission from the board and the principal,” says Stella. “But luckily, everyone really cares about the environment here, so it wasn’t too hard to convince them we should try and get the solar panels.”
“I was proud that we helped to organise the solar panels because it made me feel like I was doing something really good for everyone around me,” says Millie.
The Envirogroup’s work is never finished. So far this year, they’ve set up a paper recycling and food compost scheme throughout the school. Together with parent and teacher support, the group has also organised the planting of a native shrub garden along the front of the school.
Being a member of the group requires hard work and dedication, according to the girls.
“We look after the environment at school, and remind other kids about it too,” says Stella. “I think it’s important that us students have some input because if it was only the teachers, it might get a bit boring!”
The value of installing solar energy at the school reaches beyond the school gate.
“This initiative has been great for our students and teachers, but of course, the benefits of being environmentally-aware extend out to our families and the wider community, too.”
It’s worth noting that schools don’t need the solar panels in order to be part of the SchoolGen programme. Free curriculum-linked resources are available on the SchoolGen website so students can learn more about power generation, renewable energy, and climate science.
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