Solar panels producing electricity at Hinsdale Central, South

The solar panels are up and operating at Hinsdale Central and South high schools.

The 32 panels, or modules, are on the south wall of Central, at the southwestern corner of the school.

At Hinsdale South, the walls were built with a different construction style, which would have made attaching the solar panels to the walls much more expensive than expected, said Robert Adamik, director of buildings and grounds at South.

So, instead, the panels were installed on the roof of the school, on the south side between the field house and the library, above the science wing.

The setup, or solar array, at each school should produce the same amount of energy, said Brian Haug, director of energy solutions for Continental Electrical Construction, which installed the photovoltaic systems.

Continental Electric has installed solar panels on Plainfield High School, Oakton Community College and commercial buildings in the area.

The DC power produced by the solar panels goes via wires to an inverter where it is converted to the AC power the schools use, Haug said. From the inverter, the power goes to a breaker box, where it joins the electricity coming into the schools from their electricity supplier.

“Instead of buying electrons from ComEd, the solar panel is making them from the sun,” Haug said.

Hinsdale Central and South actually buy the bulk of their electricity from Homefield Energy, an alternative to ComEd.

The solar modules send a wireless signal to the Internet, which shows how much energy they are producing at any moment.

A computer and display will be set up in the hallway near the science classrooms at each school. Teachers and students will be able to see how much electricity is being generated at any moment, and see, for example, that when a cloud passes over the production slows, Haug said.

“It’s very dynamic,” he said.

In September, Continental will provide training to the teachers at both schools.

“The teachers are very excited about this,” said Julie Gaubatz, chairman of the science department at Hinsdale South. “We are very eager to learn from the experts how these panels are installed, how they operate and how we can use them in our classroom.”

“We’re hoping the data from the solar panels will be used in a lot of our classes, especially our core classes, such as geophysics, physics, chemistry and bio.”

Beyond the science of how the panels work, Gaubatz expects the students to study the economics of solar-generated electricity, and compare it to other methods of energy production, both renewable and traditional.

“We are hoping to explore it mathematically,” she said. “Where is the cost benefit? In which situation would you use a solar panel, and in which situation would you use a wind turbine (or) electricity generated from a nuclear or coal-powered plant?

“We have a lot of great ideas, and after we get our training, we really hope to put these ideas to work,” Gaubatz said.

The project, which cost about $108,000, was paid for with grants from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Toshiba America Foundation, and private donations.

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