MONTEREY – Imagine a future where energy is produced and shared like the output of a community garden – everyone would have the option to power their home, but neighbors could share their electricity if needed.
A Monterey County school project is exploring this idea of sustainable energy in California.
York School hosted an official dedication ceremony for its newly installed solar tracker last month. Parents of York School alumni Jim Newman and Herb Aarons have partnered with Vermont company Solaflect to donate this device to the school to educate students about the new sustainable energy and the pioneering use of this technology in a coastal environment.
“I hope the solar tracker … can be a role model for (Monterey County) on how we can not only teach this to kids, but also how we can actually work together to improve our energies,” he said. said Doug Key, director of York. School.
This new solar tracker is part of the school’s long history of using sustainable energy. Key said the York Science Building, built 20 years ago, was Monterey County’s first green building and all of their other buildings are topped with solar panels.
“We use solar energy for 62% of our electricity consumption right now,” he said. “This solar tracker is part of a larger school commitment.”
Solar trackers are solar panels that move forever to position themselves to capture the optimal amount of sunlight. Newman said solar trackers capture around 40% more energy than traditional solar panels. He also explained that the York School tracker moves via an electric motor, which uses about 1% of its total captured energy.
York will use its new solar tracker to provide new educational opportunities for its students. Two students from the school, Juliet Oliver and Alan Yang signed up to study the tracker as a senior project.
“It kind of presented itself as a natural opportunity to do something that was both useful for the school and our student community,” said Oliver.
First, they will write a proposal on the elements of the tracker that they will observe. Then, after a year of data collection, they will present their findings to the school board. The board will use this data to inform future use of solar energy at the school.
Key says this type of senior project is new to the school, but he hopes future students will feel inspired to develop these findings for senior projects. He also hopes that these projects will have tangible community impacts.
“Ultimately my vision is that we will be working with community partners,” he said, “not only are our children presenting and collecting information and interacting with those…
Both Key and Newman have expressed hope that this solar tracker will determine if solar tracker gardens are possible in California, as it will pave the way for energy independence.
Newman explained that solar gardens, i.e. community solar gardens, function like a community vegetable garden but with energy instead of producing – that each person has their own tracker and that everyone shares and benefits from the production. In this case, if a person’s tracker breaks down or needs repairs, that person can borrow sustainable power generation from the community.
“It would be like everyone is growing the same thing, everyone is growing broccoli… the cows come in and eat one person’s broccoli, everyone says’ hey, we all (garden) together, so we’ll share, ”said Newman.
Newman said he’s seen Vermont being able to implement community solar gardens, but installing them in Monterey County could be more complicated. The salty coastal environment could accelerate rusting or deterioration of machinery. In addition, the construction of solar gardens can face considerable legislative challenges.
“It’s part of these York students’ project… to examine this intersection of politics, privatization of public services and politics,” he said. They “can understand what the current constraints are and then how the company itself … can move forward.”