CTN documentary of the STEAM Solar School Project focuses on project’s creative ways to use solar energy in schools

CTN and students with the Ann Arbor STEAM School have been working for the past two years on a documentary.

The short documentary of the “STEAM Solar School Project,” led by Jeanie Wilson, is a student club at Ann Arbor STEAM School where Wilson’s 2019 students studying environmental science and photovoltaic energy technology share the story of their fundraising effort into installing solar panels on the school’s roof that ended up being installed successfully in December 2019.

Here is some background on the project:  

In 2017 a group of solar advocates launched a statewide My Solar School Contest designed to encourage and help Michigan students find creative ways to use solar energy in their schools.  “My Solar School Contest” is a collaborative project of the Ann Arbor Ecology Center and U.S. Green Building Council Detroit Region, in partnership with Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, Generation180, EcoWorks and U.S. Green Building Council of West Michigan and the Michigan Agency for Energy’s Energy Office. The contest was made possible through support from the CS Mott Foundation.

Aimed at student teams in grades 6-12, the contest required students to conduct a solar feasibility study at their school and create a short video to showcase their project vision. Student-led teams competed for the chance to win cash prizes and technical support.

An especially important part of the project is the professional “Solar Mentors” who graciously agreed to work with Michigan student teams: Cresit Energy, Youth Energy Squad (EcoWorks), Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association, Homeland Solar, Leelanau Solar, Michigan Energy Options, NOVA Consultants, Peninsula Solar, Self Reliant Energy, Solar Winds and Strawberry Solar. The Solar Mentors agreed to provide a minimum of two (2) one hour consultations on a volunteer basis with student teams to assist in preparation of contest submissions.

“The Michigan Agency for Energy is proud to be a sponsor of this contest,” said MAE Acting Executive Director Anne Armstrong Cusack. “The contest gives students a chance to learn about solar energy and how it can lower energy bills at their school. All participants will see first-hand how renewable energy is an important part of Michigan’s energy future.”  Winning schools must match funds provided by the Michigan Energy Office (MEO) and others to move forward with their projects.

In May, the program celebrated the My Solar School Contest winners:

  • Grand Prize ($1,000) – West Bloomfield High School EARTH Club, West Bloomfield, MI
  • Runner-Up ($750) – A2 STEAM @ Northside, Ann Arbor, MI
  • Finalist ($500) – Gesu School, Detroit, MI
  • Finalist ($500) – Glen Lake Community School, Glen Lake, MI
  • Finalist ($500) – West Side Academy of IT and Cyber Security, Detroit, MI

According to Jason Bing, healthy buildings director at the Ecology Center, West Bloomfield High School (WBHS) won the Grand Prize because of their exceptional grasp of the technology and benefits, their thoughtful proposal and their extremely innovative approach to community engagement. “I would hire these kids! Their analysis is sophisticated and their pitch is really compelling,” said Bing.

The West Bloomfield based team is proposing to offset the electrical use of their science wing by the end of this school year through a combination of energy efficiency improvements and the installation of a new 20 kilowatt (kW) solar array. Their vision for a 100% Solar Powered Science Department is to involve students and the school community in as many facets of project implementation as possible. “We feel like this is our way of making a difference both locally and globally,” said student Jensen Hwa, project leader, and EARTH Club president. “We’re in this not only to save our school district money but to raise awareness of a much broader issue that our community has a right to understand and be a part of.”

Each winning team was recognized at the Michigan Earth Day Festival and will continue to receive access to technical assistance and support and be featured on the Ecology Center’s website.

Teams receiving Honorable Mentions include: Bullock Creek High School (Midland, MI), Bullock Creek Middle School – 2 teams (Midland, MI), Carstens Elementary/Middle School (Detroit, MI), Pioneer High School (Ann Arbor, MI), Summers Knoll – 2 teams (Ann Arbor, MI), Traverse City Central High School (Traverse City, MI), and West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science (Walker, MI).

“We’re just so impressed by all the teams who committed to developing these solar projects for their schools and community; we hope other student teams around the state will follow their lead to solarize Michigan K-12 schools,” said Dave Konkle, President of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association (GLREA).

Fourteen schools submitted entries and, to date, eight of those schools have successfully installed solar energy at their schools with many others still working towards that goal.

MAIN PHOTO: Mayor Taylor presents the STEAM School students (and support team) with a $15,000 “Sustaining our Community Grant” to help get their solar project started.