Nine Paonia High School students who are participating in Solar Energy International’s high school solar course had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience installing a solar system for their school this February. They worked during their class period for a week alongside Empowered Energy Systems LLC, who donated their time to the project, to install a 10kW ground mount solar system. The students learned about every step of the installation process from excavation and pouring concrete to setting the railing and placing the solar panels. Now they can leverage the skills gained from this experience to pursue a career, or continuing education, in the solar industry or other technical trades.

One of the participating students, Harley Ewert 2019, shared the value of his experience,

“Working on solar installation isn’t the typical education you think of having in high school, but it exemplified how important learning first hand can be. It is amazing how quickly a term or item can be remembered when it is tied back to a physical experience rather than a definition on a computer screen.”

The system will output approximately 16,000 kWh/year of solar electricity and save the school approximately $1,500/year. This year students learned technical skills during the installation, and over subsequent years students will have the opportunity to collect a variety of data from the system to accompany physics, math, or science curriculum in the school. Not only is this 10kW solar system offsetting some energy costs for the school, but it serves as an educational resource for years to come.

Solar Energy International organized the donations and installation of the solar system. The Trina Solar solar panels and Sunny Boy inverters for the system were donated in collaboration with the Solar Foundation. While the funds for the rest of the system were local donations from community members, businesses, and utilities including DMEA, Basin Electric. Empowered Energy Systems LLC donated their time to install the ground mount and involve the students in a safe manner, and the AC electrical work was donated by Aubrey Harris from Electrical Service and Repair LLC.

Beata Ramza, Solar Energy International AmeriCorps VISTA, reflects on the experience, “This project was a culmination of the community coming together to donate time, skills, and resources to provide an educational opportunity to Paonia High School students. It’s truly inspiring to see what we can do when we work together.” From start to finish, the installation of the Paonia High School solar PV system was a local effort that will benefit the community for years to come.

The picture below shows the Paonia PV 101 students and their instructor Mandy Cotten alongside Jim Heneghan from DMEA, Pete from Solar Energy International, Kristen, Joey, JJ, and Joseph from Empowered Energy Systems LLC, and Aubrey Harris from Electric Services and Repair LLC, in front of one row of solar panels from the Paonia High School 10kW solar system.

Original press release by Beata Ramza.