Reading, ‘Riting, and Renewable

Spotlight takes solar to school with solar trees

It’s been a privilege for Spotlight Solar to help make clean energy visible and engaging at several schools this year. And in team colors!

Many schools are integrating energy education into their curriculum, with particular focus on renewables. One of the challenges is to make energy generation tangible, given its normal location in distant power plants or up on the roof (vice-principals want you kids to stay offa there). Solar trees bring clean energy technology up close, and even make it look awesome.

In an effort to demonstrate our point with a compelling image, we cheated – not with Photoshop, but by installing aesthetic solar at Hawaii Preparatory Academy, where there are rainbows around every corner. HPA is a leader in energy and sustainability education, with a dedicated net-zero Energy Lab building. And now its lunch area is shaded by inspiring solar technology.

"Our new solar trees truly have transformed HPA,” said Robert McKendry, the academy’s head of school. “Coupled with our student-designed energy-tracking kiosk, the solar trees are a striking reflection of our deep commitment to energy conservation."

In Virginia, the Dominion Foundation funded the addition of solar at four high schools with their Dominion Solar for Schools program. Our outstanding installation partner, Sigora Solar, took the initiative to bring Spotlight’s arresting solar structures to these campuses. Solar is now front and center as well as integrated into the classroom. NEED, the National Energy Education Development Project, has delivered energy curriculum and teacher training that takes full advantage of the interactivity of Spotlight’s solar trees. Production data, measured at each individual solar panel by Enphase microinverters, can be accessed by students, building their understanding of energy production and use.

“The solar tree shows our commitment to sustainability and sustainable education,” commented James Morris, environmental and energy manager for the Virginia Beach City Public Schools. “The real-time data is available for us to use in the classroom, both in our school and throughout the school division.” 

Mary Spruill of NEED has been implementing energy education at schools for more than 25 years. 

“We set out to find a perfect blend of art and energy and found it with Spotlight’s solar trees,” she explained. “The systems are not only educational and functional, they are also eye-catching and exciting for students, teachers and the community alike.”

In Columbia, SC, the Richland County school system has just opened a visionary STEM-focused flagship school called Richland 2 Institute of Innovation. Right in front is Curve by Spotlight Solar, signaling the county’s commitment to sustainability with this remarkable new facility (nice work by Yes Solar Solutions on this installation).

Designed by LS3P and built by M.B. Kahn Construction, the Institute of Innovation earned a Two Globes rating under the Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes Rating System for its advanced strategies for environmental sustainability. These include high-performance HVAC systems, water-conserving fixtures, recycled and local materials, natural and LED lighting, low-e glass with sun shades, a rainwater cistern, a 285 KW rooftop photovoltaic system (built by our partner Advanced Green Technologies), and a solar thermal hot water system. The facility also makes sustainability visible to students with a special classroom building showcasing renewable energy technologies such as fuel cells, a wind turbine, and electric vehicle charging station, and of course, their striking solar tree at the entrance.

Here’s a video from the school’s website:

We’re thrilled to be a part of introducing our future leaders to renewable energy technology! And we encourage more schools, and those who support them, to make clean energy visible and engaging.

Craig Merrigan