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Dominion expands pilot program to give students hands-on experience with solar energy

Participating schools and students will receive solar panels and hands-on lessons in generating electricity from the sun.

Trevor Dickerson

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As renewable energy, and particularly solar, becomes a growing part of both Virginia’s energy mix and an increasing topic of conversation, Dominion is expanding a hands-on program aimed at giving students learning opportunities about the technology.

The company is piloting its “Solar for Students” program at five additional public schools in the state, as well as at the Children’s Museum of Richmond, for the chance to observe and learn firsthand about harnessing energy from a solar array installed right outside the classroom. Four public schools piloted the program in 2015; the latest expansion more than doubles the initiative in size.

Each participant will receive a 1.2-kilowatt photovoltaic system that converts sunlight into electric power, as well as technical support, educational materials, and training for educators. Dominion says each solar array will have a visual display that shows students and faculty real-time data on the amount of electricity generated. Each array will generate enough electricity at maximum output to power 18 desktop computers, 40 ten-gallon aquariums, or 15 42-inch LED televisions.

The NEED Project (National Energy Education Development) will administer the program once again by providing technical support, coordinating the installation of solar panels, preparing educational materials for students, and training the teachers.

Students will be able to track the generation of electric power by viewing their data online and can challenge other participating schools around the world to a solar power match. As part of the curriculum associated with the systems, students will learn how weather and temperature impact solar electricity and discover more about Virginia’s energy resources.

“We are very excited to expand the reach of the Solar for Students program to give more organizations the chance to engage children in learning about clean, renewable solar energy,” Hunter A. Applewhite, president of the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation, said in a news release. “It’s a technology that holds great promise and one that our company is fully committed to expanding. The students participating in this program will learn firsthand about an energy source that will play a large part in powering their futures.”

Solar energy is growing rapidly in the state. Dominion Energy has invested nearly $1 billion in solar projects since 2015 and currently has a dozen new projects underway. Statewide, a number of solar co-ops have also formed or are forming–such as nonprofit VA SUN–to give consumers access to solar panel installation at bulk prices.

Elsewhere in Richmond, the MathScience Innovation Center in Henrico is also participating in the program.

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Trevor Dickerson is the Editor and Co-Founder of RVAHub.