Students tackle solar power problems
By Karl Weisel
WIESBADEN, Germany — Wiesbaden Middle School students dug deep into the nuts and bolts of solar power April 27.
The members of teacher David Bruce's eighth-grade electronics class got an inside look at the various options for harnessing the sun's energy and worked through the math needed to determine actual requirements and output.
"I am an engineer focused mainly on sustainability," said guest speaker Rich Gifaldi, an engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District.
With an ever growing world population and rapidly dwindling natural resources, proper planning and wise use of energy becomes more and more critical.
For Gifaldi, who began his career as a hydraulics engineer before turning his focus to sustainability, finding renewable energy options and environmentally friendly ways of constructing new and renovating older buildings are all part of the job.
"It has become very important," Gifaldi said. "We began by looking at the energy efficiencies of our buildings, but now our focus is on entire installations."
Energy efficiency is crucial not only for sustainability, but also for overall force protection and security, Gifaldi added, pointing out that energy dependence issues become critical when fuel is limited.
Before showing the students online resources for determining the optimal inclination of solar panels in relation to the equator and peak sun hours, Gifaldi discussed the different types of solar systems, how the sun's energy is absorbed and converted into electricity, and the various limitations to using solar power such as storage issues, availability of spare parts and peak sun hours versus peak demand.
"If you're getting more heat than your system can absorb, that can reduce the life of your system," he said, as one example of the considerations one must take in planning a solar system to be as efficient as possible. "There are lots of things to consider."
"This is the first year that we've offered electronics," said Bruce, explaining that after learning the mechanics of how circuits work, the solar energy session was a natural progression for the eighth-graders.
"The intent of this class is to provide a farm team for Frank Pendzich's robotics class at the high school. During this session they get to see the math, science, engineering and technology all pooled together," said the Wiesbaden Middle School math, science and electronics teacher. There's an ends to the means and they can see it. … They're doing science and technology management which will dovetail into whatever they do in future STEM classes."
It's also important for everyone to "look at our natural resources to see what we can do to power our houses and our vehicles," Bruce said, "to get off our dependence on fossil fuels."
"If you're looking to buy your own system, it's good to do your own calculations," Gifaldi said, pointing out that with various solar systems available on the market, taking into consideration the many variables to determine need over time is necessary in making an informed decision.
"We're working circuits and I thought this (the session on solar energy) was pretty cool," said eighth-grader Asante Lattimore.
"I found it pretty interesting, yet again pretty hard at first," added classmate Corey Ruben, as they worked through the calculations to determine energy requirements versus system output.
"I think this is good for them," said Gifaldi, about the time spent working through the math of building a solar system. "It's a real-life practical example.
"I see them getting excited. It's really important to start thinking early about this," he said, adding that showing the connection between energy efficiency and good business practices is equally important."