Problems:

1. Schools’ operational costs are increasing.

2. Kids need STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education.

3. Natural disasters cause widespread power failures.

The Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), a research institute of the University of Central Florida, has one solution to all three problems: SunSmart Emergency Shelters.

When natural disasters occur, schools are often used as emergency shelters. FSEC is working with Florida utility companies to provide complete photovoltaic systems to schools across the state. These PV systems generate power every day, reducing the schools’ energy costs. FSEC is also providing educational materials and training teachers about renewable energy. These lessons are carried into the classrooms, providing students with valuable STEM education. And when natural disasters occur, each school becomes an emergency shelter that has its own electricity generating capabilities. Win-win … win.

Each participating school receives a 10 kW photovoltaic system that includes a bimodal inverter (an inverter that can run stand-alone or grid-tied), batteries, and a battery charge controller. While the batteries won’t power the entire school during a power failure, they store enough energy to power critical loads and emergency equipment. The system also includes data collection hardware that’s used in the classrooms, showing students how much energy is generated and the reduction of the school’s carbon footprint as a result of using solar power.

In this video, a solar engineer with good musical taste describes the SunSmart system:

Images and video: Florida Solar Energy Center/University of Central Florida

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