Solar Schools – Planting Seeds of Solar Education

Back in the early 2000s, he was sometimes referred to the “the Johnny Appleseed of solar”. Planting the seeds of solar awareness and education across the state of Ohio, one kilowatt at a time, Glen Kizer was a leader in getting solar planted around the state in the first decade of this century. Through his Foundation for Environmental Education, Glen is still planting those seeds 20 years later. How did he do it first? Installing dozens of 1 kW grid connected solar power systems on schools around the state.

Sewing Seeds in Schools

It was 2001 when Glen first contacted Geoff Greenfield of Third Sun Solar to become an installation partner. His plan was to install dozens of 1 kW grid connected solar power systems on schools around the state. These systems would be a visible icon, planting the seed of awareness in the minds of students, teachers and administrators. Including a curriculum developed for the classroom that explored the way solar works, how to calculate solar production and using the actual data from that solar array, the program attracted many schools to the cause.

The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) found a partner in American Electric Power (AEP) and their Learning from Light Program. AEP had hundreds of previously used solar panels stored in warehouses that it provided to FEE for use in its mission. FEE established connections in the schools, then contracted with Third Sun to complete the installation process. The State of Ohio provided some funding to help train teachers, and FEE also partnered with the Ohio Energy Project. In all, Third Sun installed about 35 of these projects in several states between 2001 and 2006.

Ideas Blossoming

Although a 1kW solar array provided very little in the entire energy picture of the typical school, the system was more about educating than offsetting utility power or lowering emissions. Upon completion of the installation, the schools often had ribbon cutting ceremonies, sun celebrations and sometimes entire assemblies to christen their new solar array. Geoff Greenfield was tapped to speak at these events which often included local officials, lawmakers and school administrators.

The seeds sown by these 1kW educational systems have surely grown and blossomed over the last several years. This partnership was a key launching point for Third Sun Solar. This experience of  installing net metered systems allowed Third Sun to expand its work into many other markets. Third Sun has gone on to install systems 500 to 1000 times larger on schools in our state. Some universities have even gone further than that, coordinating installations of 2 MW or more – 2000 times bigger than these early arrays (see Third Sun’s installation at Denison University).

Where Are The Solar Schools Now?

Like Third Sun, 20 years later Glen is still working hard to install educational solar power systems. His geographic focus has changed to work primarily in the state of Illinois, but his influence in Ohio will not be forgotten. After all this time, we sometimes wonder what is happening with these systems? Some schools have been torn down and rebuilt, so some systems have been lost. Surely, there are still dozens out there that are still producing power. But, with ongoing changes in curriculum and focus for our educational institutions, are they still being used? If you have one of these in your community or local school, let us know what you know about them!