Keith School celebrates PV installation

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-11720839807581.jpg’, ‘Photo provided’, ‘Keith school photovoltaic installation with students (from left) Julie Keith, Azhar Mohiuddin, Moiz Malik, Rohan Bhargava, Lou Ann Johnson (adviser to EnergyNet), Jorge Ramirez and Glenn Wear.‘);

Feb. 7, Keith School held the ribbon-cutting ceremony for their new photovoltaic system. ComEd’s Vice President for Resource Adequacy and Environmental Programs, Sharon Hillman, spoke at the event and praised students for their efforts. Dave Merrill, who installed the system, was also present. It was our first visit to the school. The pleasant, informal nature of the day made it a pleasure to be there. We especially enjoyed observing the friendly, respectful interactions between students ranging from sixth to 12th grade.

We were invited by Science Department Chairman LouAnn Johnson to talk with two classes about their energy projects. For three days that week, Keith School held Interim, which provides an opportunity for students from grades six through 12 to focus on a specific topic, study it intensely and develop action plans based on what they discovered. This year’s theme was “Being Green: It’s Your World.” We discussed wind options with a group who are now writing a proposal for wind power for the school and with another group doing computer searches investigating energy-saving technologies which might apply to the school buildings.

The PV system, consisting of seven 165-watt Mitsubishi panels connected to a 2,000-watt PV-powered inverter situated on the Rhea Building, feeds power into the school grid. It is an outgrowth of the EnergyNet program, initiated in 1997 by two students and two teachers who attended the University of Illinois’ EnergyNet Institute and returned determined to make a difference at their school. The team’s goal is conserving energy and improving the environment.

The group obtained a Smith Charitable Trust Grant, which helped introduce computer technology to students leading to Keith’s becoming a laptop school in 1998. During our meetings, students demonstrated how computers helped them access cutting-edge information for their projects.

Between 1998 and 2000, Keith’s EnergyNet team joined the ComEd Student Power Program, obtaining a 10 percent reduction in electrical bills. Students also performed energy audits on their building and recommended replacing old fixtures with energy-efficient T8 bulbs or compact fluorescents as appropriate. Most exit lights have been replaced by LEDs; those that have not been will be as they fail. Students also sell compact fluorescents and teach fifth graders about energy.

Last year, the team applied for grants from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and ComEd for the PV system. Students and others interested can track their electrical production, as well as carbon dioxide saved as a result of their use, on

The ribbon-cutting ceremony included a senior men’s glee club rendition of “Energy,” which delighted students, teachers and visitors alike. When told their academic team had just won the all-school competition, students cheered with a vigor usually reserved for athletic events. We were delighted to witness such enthusiasm for both arts and academics.

By involving students in making decisions about important things that affect their future, this is one school that’s getting it right.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. They have 3.2 kW of PV and a 1 kW wind generator at their home. Forty acres of their 180-acre home farm are in ecological restorations. They are also active in preserving natural areas. They are retired professors from Northern Illinois University.

From the Feb. 21-27, 2007, issue

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