Sunday, January 24, 2010

Watts On Schools

One of the encouraging elements of initiating renewable energy curriculum is its widespread availability.  Energication began with an early post showcasing what the federal government has created. However, electric utilities, working with their local communities, are beginning to be quite the repository of well-developed materials.

Enter Watts on Schools.

Watts on Schools is an effort by American Electric Power serving customers in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.  The web site brings together information about, and in support of, a number of solar energy systems at public elementary, middle, and high schools in their service areas.

On their site, they share an enormous collection of solar energy activities, grouped by educational level.  Here's a list:

Lower Elementary
Upper Elementary
Middle School
High School
Watts On Schools Activities

Regardless of the age group, teachers can begin to implement these concepts today.  This sort of collaborative sharing of materials helps everyone.

Energication will continue to find and share helpful resources and perspectives in hopes of furthering renewable energy education in our schools.



Sunday, January 17, 2010

Gresham Grows Energy Expertise

Gresham, Oregon is not unlike many other cities in their quest for new business. Many are seeking companies with scientific-based operations, some specifically related to renewable energy.

Germany based Centrosolar Group AG has announced plans to open its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Gresham. Although details on the plant's size, project timing or number of jobs isn't known quite yet, it spells good news for the future of our area.

The question of course for Energication is how we ensure a symbiotic relationship, benefiting Centrosolar for their decision, but what are the positive implications for our students?  In a number of Energication posts, I have discussed the growing momentum and focus on renewable energy in post-secondary education, specifically at the University or Oregon and Oregon State University.  Now, there's another link in the chain for our students.

Chicken or the Egg?

One school of thought is "industry won't locate here if we don't have a quality and appropriate educational experience to feed them with qualified workers."  Another is "why should we focus on a particular area of industry if none of it exists here?"

Small Steps Make a Difference

In the perspectives brought to bear in Energication, it shows that small steps are making a difference - and they become cumulative.  For example, the Portland region is becoming known for being the hub for renewable energy.  The governor is working hard to position the State of Oregon with a positive "solar climate."  Gresham has a mayor that "gets it."  Oregon and OSU are exploiting grants for renewable energy research facilities. Now, Centrosolar has announced it is coming to the area.

See the momentum?  How can we fuel it further?

Aligning our science and technology curriculum to not only acknowledge, but embrace renewable energy will help to establish the next "chicken or egg."  Companies are beginning to see the area as one of value.  Let's use that as a way to promote a more precise focus on the curriculum that will help our students prepare.  This isn't a commentary on preparing for college or the workforce.  No, it is a commentary on preparation.  Period.  Providing exposure to the kinds of things our students will experience in the future is the right strategy.  We don't know what the future will hold, but we must prepare them for the environment in which the future will unfold.  Refining our science curriculum to include alternative fuel technologies is an excellent first step.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Solar Research Center to Open at OSU

Last year, I described a grant made possible by Oregon BEST, benefitting Oregon State University and the University of Oregon. In completing that circle, it is exciting to know that OSU's solar energy research center is well under way.

Oregon State's Oregon Process Innovation Center for Sustainable Solar Cell Manufacturing has begun acquiring equipment and expects to be up and running in May. Oregon Best provided the initial investment through their grant to the tune of $232,000 and was instrumental in assisting with additional funding.

Of course this is wonderful for students in the State of Oregon.  This work continues to enhance the Oregon University System in ways that will help to keep our Renewable Energy students right here in the state. In a more unselfish tone, it also shows that students everywhere continue to see improving opportunities. This improving environment allows them to explore the wide range of existing and nascent technologies supporting Renewable Energy in their post-secondary education.

The OSU facility has the potential become an international leader in solar cell innovation and manufacturing. "We’re reaching the limits of what can be done through incremental improvements in traditional, silicon-based solar cell technology,” said Greg Herman, an associate professor of chemical engineering at OSU and associate director of the center. “We’re aiming for a revolution in solar cell processing and manufacturing that might drop costs by as much as 90 percent while being more environmentally sensitive.”

Consistent with the manner in which Gresham, Oregon's own Center for Advanced Learning has partnered with local businesses, Oregon State's facility with extend that even further with more than 20 faculty and researchers from OSU, the University of Oregon, Portland State University and the Pacific Northwest National
Laboratory.  They will not only allow, but foster collaboration with private industry, and provide unique student educational opportunities in some of the newest concepts in solar energy.

The center will work closely with some of the leaders in solar energy in Oregon and around the
world, said Chih-hung Chang, director of the center and the Sharp Laboratories Faculty
Scholar at OSU. Collaboration is planned with Oregon companies such as SolarWorld, Voxtel
and CH2M Hill, as well as leading universities in Germany, Taiwan and South Korea.

So what does this tell us in the K-12 world?  We're doing the right thing by promoting the teaching of Renewable Energy.  Sure, this just happens to be a solar example, but these kinds of "educational success stories" are taking place all across the energy spectrum.  Energication will continue to be the place to learn about them all.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Education Isn't Only For Students

When it comes to debunking myths about renewable energy, in this case specifically, electric and plug-in electric vehicles, it isn't only our students who need to be educated.  There is still a great misconception out there - in many circles - about this new science of renewable energy.

Plug In America is a non-profit group advocating the adoption of electric vehicles.  They have issued a report of 12 Plug-in Electric Vehicle Myths.  I'll just list them here as thought provokers.  Click on the link for the full report:
  1. MYTH: EVs don't have enough range. You'll be stranded when you run out of electricity
  2. MYTH: EVs are good for short city trips only
  3. MYTH: EVs just replace the tailpipe with a smokestack
  4. MYTH: The charging infrastructure must be built before people will adopt EVs
  5. MYTH: The grid will crash if millions of plug-ins charge at once
  6. MYTH: Battery chemicals are bad for the environment and can't be recycled
  7. MYTH: EVs take too long to charge
  8. MYTH: Plug-ins are too expensive for market penetration
  9. MYTH: Batteries will cost $15,000 to replace after only a few years
  10. MYTH: There isn't enough lithium in the world to make all the new batteries
  11. MYTH: Lithium batteries are dangerous and can explode
  12. MYTH: Most of us will still be driving gas cars through 2050
My point?  As we take steps to properly educate our students about renewable energy, about the technologies behind various modes of transportation, and the science supporting all aspects of the topic, they will encounter "adults" who just don't get it.

Sounds like teaching some patience may be in order as well.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Wind Energy Training Comes in Many Forms

One of the important lessons I learned as a School Board Member is the need to provide a varied set of offerings for students.  Our philosophy in the school district of "All Means All" was applied at many times, most specifically when considering student options.  We truly believed that all students can learn, just in different ways and at different times.  This drove the creation of a wide variety of educational paths.

On August 8, 2009, I wrote about the grants that had been awarded to the University of Oregon and Oregon State University by Oregon BEST (Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center.)  Through these grants, BEST helped to established labs and research centers for the study of many aspects of solar electric technology.

This is a great enhancement for each of these schools, but let's keep the "All Means All" concept in mind.  Not every student is destined for a four-year college or university.  Not every student in the field of renewable energy is interested in solar technologies.

Enter Northwest Renewable Energy Institute, located in Vancouver, Washington.  They are a division of the International Air and Hospitality Academy, a 30 year old academy that began as training for the travel and hospitality industry and have expanded their offerings through the years.  Seeing the need for wind energy technicians, they have again expanded their offerings.

In a recent news release, academy founder Arch Miller indicated the growth in wind power workers is expected to reach 450,000 from the current 85,000.  This is expected in support of the U.S. Department of Energy's goal of wind becoming 20% of the nation's energy source by 2030.  A pre-schooler today will be graduating high school around 2030.  What a perfect time to have renewable energy options in our schools.

If you combine a substantial expected demand for workers, with today's salaries ranging from $36,000 to $68,000 depending on education and experience, you can see this is not a bad path for our K-12 students.  In contrast to the UO and OSU environment of higher education, the Northwest Renewable Energy Institute has a different set of requirements: at least 18 years old with a high school diploma or GED.

All really does mean all.

This is not meant to be an endorsement of the academy.  I do not know about their program beyond the basics discussed here.  Instead, it is simply an example of the varied options available to our students in the field of renewable energy.  They truly have options.  However, it is our responsibility to prepare them to exercise those options when they are ready.

What other educational options have you seen?  If you are a K-12 teacher, how are you preparing your students to exercise their options?


Our Other Sponsors