Florida Engineer Teaches Renewable Energy from a Solar Powered Van

Mario Padro and Empowered by the Sun want every student to learn about renewable energy.

Mario Padro from Empowered by the Sun believes that the best way to make change in the world is through education. While studying America’s education standards he learned that most states are failing their students in the area of renewable energy. Only three states require their students to learn about renewable energy while the rest either leave the content as optional or do not require any renewable energy education. Further, he found that Career and Technical Education centers were much more likely to teach energy that traditional public school districts. Padro developed a vision to develop curriculum that “bridges the existing educational gap.” Empowered by the Sun is running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funding for Sunny, their traveling solar van.

The curriculum focuses on renewable energy, solar power, circuits, and then finishes with solar powered circuits. Material is taught in a workshop format to give students hands on experience that ends in building a solar powered vehicle. Beyond these workshops students at a school can start a club, and work on new projects every year for a nationwide competition.

Beyond education Empowered by the Sun has an eye on future employment. Citing a James Hamilton study the campaign page discusses solar energy employment in the research, manufacturing, construction, operation, installation and maintenance sectors. In a statistic that definitely needs to be explored further, the campaign page shows a Forbes infographic boasting 373,807 US solar jobs in 2016 vs 187,117 in the fossil fuel industries. At this point curriculum is developed, Sunny the solar van has been purchased, the solar panels are in hand, and the work is underway to convert the van to electric. This project is a great example of engineers working toward the greater good, and combining the principles of energy with education. I’d love to see this build either to an international focus, or for engineers in other countries to start their own mobile education centers. The crowdfunding campaign has not yet met its funding goal and ends on August 3, 2019.