Students looking for news or cartoons on the new flat-screen television at Beasley Elementary School will be disappointed.
Instead, the screen shows a variety of bar and line graphs, numbers and illustrations demonstrating the number of kilowatt hours being produced by 104 solar panels on the roof.
The information brings a new meaning of the words “sunny day“ to students in five schools in the Mehlville School District.
Besides Beasley, the other schools include Oakville High School, the Witzel Alternative Academy, Bernard Middle School and Hagemann Elementary School.
Each facility has 104 solar panels that each day can provide 25 kilowatts, depending on the weather. That's about 2 to 5 percent of each building's needs. A kilowatt-hour of convention energy costs 7.8 cents, compared to 5.2 cents for solar power.
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St. Louis company StraightUp Solar installed the panels during the past six weeks. The company has a 20-year lease with the district to provide and maintain the equipment. The terms call for a $186 monthly payment for each building, eventually rising to $333 monthly near the end of the lease.
Both parties estimate the district will save about $130,000 during 20 years at the five schools combined. That's a small amount, compared to the district's estimate that each building's annual energy costs average about $100,000.
It still presents some savings, Superintendent Eric Knost said. The lease is set for 20 years, no matter how much conventional energy costs might rise.
“This is not just a science experiment," Knost said. "Years ago, we started to talk about solar power as a way to save some of the taxpayers' money. That came first. Then, we saw a chance to use it as a curricular opportunity. The students can look at the monitor, see how much energy is produced and learn about it in science classes.”
Any amount of solar power also helps the environment, said Eric Swillinger, vice president with StraightUp Solar.
“One kilowatt-hour of sunlight is the equivalent of burning one pound of coal,” Swllinger said. “Two homes can be powered by 112 kilowatt-hours. Any amount of reducing fossil fuels is worth it.”
Solar power already is a subject for science classes. At Oakville High, students are using solar panels to power model cars, Knost said.
Just looking at the monitor and its information is a learning experience for the students, Beasley Principal Andrea Deane said.
“It will say that this amount of energy can power four cars or is like planting 17 trees to help the environment,” Deane said. “We want to use it for our science classes. Right now, we’re still figuring out the lesson plans.”
The five schools were chosen because their roofs are flat and are in good condition. No repairs are planned. If work needs to be done, StraightUp Solar will remove the panels, then reinstall them when the work is finished.
The panels are pitched at a 10-degree angle and are aimed to the south.
“The sun shines the most around the equator,” StraightUp Solar technician Josh Hall said. “That’s where most of the sunlight comes from.”