October 2004

Florida SunSmart Schools Use Ample Supply of Sunshine to Light Classrooms and Spark Imaginations

Photo: Philip Fairey speaking at podium in front of photovoltaic array with big red ribbon.
Philip Fairey, FSEC Interim Director, gives address at Walker Middle School's ribbon cutting, Odessa, FL.
(Photo credit: Jennifer Szaro)

The Florida Solar Energy Center is administering the “SunSmart Schools” program, a partnership between the Department of Environmental Protection/Florida Energy Office (DEP/FEO) and the state’s electric utilities and other industry partners; the program installs photovoltaic (solar electric) systems in schools throughout the state. Florida SunSmart Schools take advantage of their location in a state with an ample supply of free sunshine to light classrooms and spark the imaginations of their students.

The pilot version of the program was initially funded at $750,000 from DEP/FEO to subsidize the installation of 29 systems throughout the state. The funds supported program development and monitoring activities as well as the PV hardware costs. The maximum allowable rebate per system was $25,000. Public or private K-12 schools, community colleges, universities and vocational schools with internet access and an appropriate roof or ground location for the installation of a PV system may apply for rebate funds. Schools can team up with their local electric utility, organizations within the local community, commercial and residential customers or corporate sponsors to raise the additional funds for each system.

The program is designed to foster long-term interest and market expansion of solar energy by exposing students, teachers and the local community to functional PV systems in a learning environment. Thousands of students and teachers across Florida are learning about the important role that solar energy can play in meeting a portion of the state’s electricity demand, promoting local economic development and providing energy security and a clean environment for future generations.
The SunSmart Schools program also provides a significant and readily accessible source of performance and economic data via the internet that students can access and analyze as a component of existing curriculum requirements.

FSEC also provides students and teachers with an educational activity kit, web-based learning activities and lesson plans that correlate with state science and mathematics educational standards. FSEC’s Susan Schleith, James Haggard and Penny Hall coordinated regional teacher training workshops throughout the state to provide support to educators utilizing the kit materials and website as part of their teaching curriculum.

A number of FSEC staff members also assisted with quality assurance and technical support. Jennifer Szaro, the SunSmart Schools Program Manager, with other FSEC staff, developed a list of quality control measures that were then incorporated into the requirements for participation. These included a 5-year service agreement for the system, an acceptance test requirement, a cost summary breakdown, the submittal of permits and interconnection documentation and a monitoring agreement with the school. Additionally, Donard Metzger, William Wilson and Jim Dunlop installed and currently maintain all data acquisition equipment. The monitoring equipment allows FSEC staff to pinpoint system failures and respond quickly to system owners about maintenance requirements or system failures that might require site visits.

Some schools were considered for selection to participate in the program, since they were designated primary First Aid shelters in the event of a local disaster. Solar power can take on vital importance if normal electricity service becomes unavailable. In the event of a local emergency, the system will generate electricity produced by the solar system which is diverted to the school to operate lighting and other necessities. During normal conditions, the renewable energy produced by the PV system is distributed to the company’s grid.

The PV systems also provide an on-site laboratory for students to learn more about solar power and the benefits of energy conservation. Each installed system includes monitoring technology that collects weather and system performance data, and allows students and the public to view collected data over the internet at www.energywhiz.com.

Continued annual funding for the program is expected at $500,000, which will be used to subsidize the cost to install about 25 systems a year.

You can view the database showing participating schools and data collected by each school at http://securedb.fsec.ucf.edu/pv/list.