Students at all Hawthorn Elementary District 73 schools soon may see solar power in a different light.
Installation of small-scale solar panels on the roofs of five school buildings in the Vernon Hills-based district is almost complete, though generating power isn't the main purpose.
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"It's a teaching tool. We're not getting any major savings in terms of energy" costs, said Lisa Cerauli, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
Four panels, each 64 inches by 39 inches, at each building will make data available online so students can see how much solar energy is collected for a given period and make comparisons, for example.
"When they hear about it (solar energy) on the news, it's nice for the kids to have some background what it actually means," Cerauli said.
The installation and associated work is funded by a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation. Grants of up to $8,000 or 90 percent of each system and its costs are available through the foundation's Illinois Solar Schools initiative, which began in 2006. Since then, 230 schools in Illinois, including several in Lake County, have systems installed and running.
And because in this case the panels were donated, there is no cost to the district, Cerauli said.
The purpose of the grant program is to teach the value of renewable energy and energy efficiency and give students a firsthand look at how sunlight is converted to electricity, according to the foundation. It was founded in 1999 with a $225 million endowment from ComEd.
Installations are being made at Elementary South, Aspen, Middle South, Elementary North and Townline/School of Dual Language. But those aren't the first in District 73.
In 2006, seven panels were installed Middle School North, an initiative led by science teacher Doug Shearer. The idea started with an experiment in solar power in the 1970s at a nearby townhouse development, which included solar collectors (since removed) to heat water.
Shearer said the energy is a big part of the Common Core curriculum but it also is a way to make the public more aware of solar power. Since installation, the cells have generated 7,985 kilowatt hours of electricity, enough to power 255 homes for a day, he said.
According to grant guidelines, panels should be visible from the school grounds, have a Web-based data collection system to allow students throughout the state to compare figures and use the data as part of the curriculum.
A teacher at each school has been selected as a "solar panel ambassador", according to Cerauli, to share information with parents at upcoming family nights.