Fort Myers, Florida (News-Press) -- Estero High School flipped the switch Friday on a program that will bring the sun into classrooms as a teaching aid.
TheLee County school is among 21 in Lee, Collier and Charlotte countiesusing solar power to reduce energy costs and provide a learningopportunity as part of Florida Power & Light's Solar for Schoolsinitiative.
Theprogram will place 5- to 10-kilowatt arrays, also known as solar panels,in 90 schools and five science centers - including the ImaginariumScience Center in Fort Myers - in 23 counties.
In Lee , five of the eight schools earmarked for the program have arrays operating.
"There'sso much potential for this," said Principal George Clover. "Right nowit is just for the science classes. We want to make sure we learn theentire system."
Scienceteacher William Guarno was excited about the possibilities. "We will beable to pull up screens and data in class," he said. "We will beteaching the kids to look at the data and interpret it."
HeatherWalker, Estero's technology support specialist, said the system willalso allow array data to be broadcast throughout the school.
ErikHofmeyer, a spokesman for FPL, said the arrays provide real-time energymonitoring with power generated credited to the school to help cutelectric bills.
Participating schools also get teacher training and educational materials at no cost to the district.
Thepanels cost from $50,000 to $80,000, depending on size, according toFPL. Hofmeyer said FPL will handle upkeep for the first five years.
He said funding comes from FPL's five-year Solar Pilot Program approved in 2010.
"Under the program, funds come from the energy conservation clause on customer bills," he said.
TomConrecode, Collier schools' support services director, said hisdistrict's projects were in the design and permitting phase withconstruction expected in the spring.
Conrecode said the program was a positive for Collier schools for the educational output and the power produced.
"The energy developed will be about $600 to $1,000 a year," he said. "It depends on sunlight and orientation."
Conrecode said teachers involved in the program can use the solar arrays for teaching in many different ways.
"They can be specific or used more broadly across an entire year," he said.
TheImaginarium Science Center 10kW array has been up and running allsummer, said Mathew Johnson, center general manager. "It's a cool littleexhibit," he said.
Johnsonsaid the array, tied into the center's Caloosahatchee River exhibit,will be expanded with four panels overlooking the main array. "They canbe touched and tilted, and the children will be able to see how theenergy output changes," he said.