This blog was written for Community Energy Fortnight 2020, by Mary Yates, Solar Power Education Officer
As a teacher, working part-time in school and as an SPE Education officer, I feel privileged to strike a balance between the formality of a National Curriculum and the freedom of outdoor learning.
I provide school workshops and visits to solar and wind farms for Plymouth Energy Community and soon for Yealm Community Energy. Their objectives are to empower their community to create a fair, affordable, zero carbon energy system with people at its heart.
The ‘feel’ of joining up with an energy community is the excitement and enthusiasm of what we can deliver to local people. Finding ways to showcase the solar site in their midst, how we all have a vested interest in what goes on there and sharing the benefits. Particularly now, as we find new ways to be together, the importance of neighbourhood and our place in a locality seems more significant.
The power of a group.
It's a Farm? Where are the Animals?
Typically, we take children on the journey of power from the sun to their homes, following as it moves through the stages on a solar farm. The chance to get close to this invisible force, to hear it humming through the transformers, to look at the data on the inverters and to make sense of how nature is creating something so important to us.
The surprise of how a panel feels – smooth, not hot and no shock! The delight of meeting a site engineer and asking him about his job or looking at the gadgets he carries – a multi meter to show us how much power is in that cable or a thermal imaging camera to take the temperature of the panel (or us!). A sense that some of the power from the experience passes through to the children to carry forward perhaps?
Aspirations are so easy to build in this setting – explaining about the number of people involved in a community solar site at all stages. Children can see how their interests could lead to a job in the future in this industry. Hands fly up when I ask who likes nature, Maths, Science … then they see the link to the careers of the people we discuss.
The power of an aspiration.
Many solar farms focus on improving the biodiversity on their sites and we use this as an opportunity to give children hands on experiences of nature. In groups, the children are given a range of equipment, binoculars, magnifying glasses and spotter’s guides and freedom to explore an area of the site.
The amazement at the creatures they discover. The feeling of them on their hand.
The power of nature.
Harnessing the power?
Working at Solar Power Education provides me with a unique insight … a snapshot of a group, a moment captured and questions that cause me to stop and think. The power of those questions often surprises me.
Why don’t they make camouflage solar panels? Do they recycle all parts of the panels? Who says it should cost so much? Why isn’t the energy free when the sun shines and the wind blows for free? Can’t we change the national grid? Why don’t people realise there is so much nature under the panels?
What follows are their solutions, fresh, uncomplicated: We could design a battery in school and make a million pounds. We could ask people to share ideas. I could ask my Dad – he’s an electrician. Potatoes can store power. You could have holiday tours around your site.
The power of an open mind.
The key is to listen to these questions, to question ourselves, to think whether it is time to do things differently, to find different places and people to get new answers from. To challenge at all levels.
Perhaps that is the power we can harness – that of a child’s uncomplicated thoughts…
Follow Solar Power Education on Facebook, Instagram and our website.