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New solar panels installed at Athens Drive Magnet High School

Posted February 19, 2021 8:09 a.m. EST
Updated February 22, 2021 9:53 a.m. EST

— What started as a student project has now turned into one school’s journey to reduce the use of fossil fuels through solar energy.

Athens Drive Magnet High School is the first school in Wake County to have a solar array system, consisting of 12 solar panels, through NC GreenPower Solar+ Schools, a non-profit grant.

Rocco Nociti, a former student, transformed his homework into a real-life application of renewable energy. Determined to get his high school using renewable energy, he applied for the grant.

Solar panels at Athens Drive High School

“One of the things that is always fascinating to me is solar energy and renewable energy,” Nociti said. “Fall of my junior year, I kind of had a goal to get solar panels on Athens Drive.“

Now, Athens Drive Magnet High School is generating enough energy to power the school’s office.

This year, NC GreenPower will award 15 schools in North Carolina a grant to install a solar array system on the school's property along with $14,000 in additional benefits and a STEM curriculum with instruction.

“The solar panels were donated to NC GreenPower by one of our partners, SunPower," said Katie Lebrato, Marketing Communications Director. "They are commercial grade modules, with 20% efficiency – rated among the highest efficiency modules on the market and are expected to show very little degradation over the next 20 to 30 years."

STEM Academy Coordinator and science teacher Shane Barry said students are able to collect the data generated from the solar array system to better understand the processes of solar energy.

“We actually have data we could use to analyze also," Barry said. "This is still a new thing. We are working on how to use that data to do more with the students.”

According to NC GreenPower, the systems prevented 359,803 pounds of coal from burning, the equivalent of taking 31 houses off the grid for a year.

“To us, part of the reason these installations are so important, we want it to be supported by the community that the schools are in. We want to start conversations about solar energy in schools and stem education and also show the value of emissions-free energy produced every day by the sun,” said Lebrato.

With a lower sun angle in the winter and thick clouds, the intensity of the sun is lower is typically lower during winter months. Lebrato said, on average, some schools have pulled above the initial estimates of energy per year.

Because the location of Athens Drive Magnet High School and the trees around it, the building does not always get full sun exposure.

“Due to the prominent locations of our pole-mounted solar systems – we prefer to have them in visible locations near the front of the schools – and the unexpected high production of solar energy from the SunPower modules, we’ve seen an average of about 7,000 to 7,500 kWh and at some schools, even higher than 8,000 kWh produced annually," Lebrato said.

"This is roughly half the amount of electricity that a typical home uses in a year, so we equate it to maybe powering the school’s main office,” said Lebrato.

Additionally, the solar panels have trimmed the school's electric bill.

“So the total since we have gotten it now is about $282," Barry said. "This is less than a year old ... we haven't even have a ribbon cutting for this because all this has happened within quarantine time."

According to Barry, solar energy education will expand in the curriculum once the students fully return to the classroom.

“As is the stuff with all the education system right now, it is better hands-on and in person," Barry said. "I am really looking forward to when they could be here, experience it, understand what it means to have something like this and have something like this in their physical space with the meter that is on it.”

Through the Solar+ Schools Grant, NC GreenPower has installed solar panels at 42 other schools across the state, with more to come.

“It was the student interest and the student drive that really made this happen,” said Barry.

“This is something where I wanted to leave a lasting impression but to also have a realistic application of sustainable energy in the classroom,” Nociti said.

Applications are being accepted until the end of February. Find more information on how to apply on their website.

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