JAY — Imagine having a home that is completely powered and heated by sustainable, renewable energy sources.

It’s a future that certainly appeals to senior Adam Gettle, one of the students in the new alternative energy class at Spruce Mountain High School.

“I was always interested in alternative energy,” he said. “I’ve always liked things like wind turbines, and building things.”

Exchange student David Stone, from Mexico, said that he took the class “because it was really interesting to do something different. It was good to find out what to spend my money on.”

The semester-long elective class is different from the traditional high school course in a number of ways. First, it is team-taught by Dan Lemieux and Dr. Robbin Nichol.

“He focuses on some of the bigger concepts,” said Lemieux of his colleague. “I focus on the hands-on aspects.”

It isn’t a requirement to take the class, but students learn a lot as the semester goes along. Lemieux said that the course is meant to be fun and informative and help kids make better choices about using alternative energy sources.

“The other thing it does is it gives them a lot of science and math concepts,” he pointed out.

The school building itself is a laboratory of sorts for alternative energy resource. Outside on one of the wings, a set of solar panels collects heat from the sun. An inverter inside the school’s shop takes DC current from the panels and shows the kilowatt hours generated.

“It will pay for itself as it sits out there,” said Lemieux of the solar panels. “But we’re more into it for the educational purposes.”

He added that they are also becoming more affordable for homeowners.

At the beginning of the semester, the students started with building CO2 cars, part of the hands-on emphasis on learning. They also embarked on a study of nuclear power and discussed the history, policies, and politics surrounding it.

The class learned that despite the well documented nuclear accidents, “the risk is a perceived risk,” said Dr. Nichol. Hydropower and how it is used was another subject covered.

Lemieux had the students make some sample wind turbines to give them a feel for the aerodynamics of the real thing.

Class projects have included the following:

– CO 2 Cars: Study of acceleration= f (force)/m (mass) basis concept in power generation.

– Nuclear power

– Wind power and offshore wind.

– Thermal solar (Geodesic dome greenhouse)

– A gasifier built and used in class.

– Biofuel field trip visit to Re-energy

– Solar cookers

– Geothermal

Students will compete in statewide competitions such as wind blades and the windstorm challenge. The class will also connect student various college programs available to them after high school.

The school received a Title VI Grant for the course. RSU 73 students have developed resources for students using “Green Technology”. This type of technology reduces the impact of human activities, and includes a solar powered geodesic greenhouse facility at neighboring Spruce Mountain Middle School and an electricity-generating wind turbine.

This year, students will also be exploring hydroponic agriculture and aquaponics, an ecosystem replicating the combination of aquaculture and hydroponics. Thanks to grant funding, the students will be able to use computer interfaced lab sensors as a method for data collection. This will allow them to investigate, analyze, and possibly improve the green technology systems in the schools.

To further their solar power study, the students built solar cookers. They placed a piece of saran wrap over the top and studied the sun’s impact. They discovered a major difference between the outside ambient air temperature and the temperature inside the cooker.

The field trip to ReEnergy in Livermore Falls showed the students how natural resources are used in the biomass process. It also exposed them to careers in the field.

“The biomass plant was pretty cool,” said Gettle. “It was great seeing it firsthand.”

Lemieux was complimentary of ReEnergy for accommodating the class.

“They did a wonderful job,” he said.

The students built their own miniature gasifiers and learned how fuel burns and creates energy. Beyond the types of heat sources, the students have been learning the value of properly insulating a home.

“If we just re-insulated our homes, it would save so much money,” said Lemieux.

Stone said that the class has taught him about the advantages and disadvantages associated with each energy source, and what will work depending on climate. In sunny Mexico, he pointed out that the most reliable would be solar power.

“It’s the easiest one to install,” he added.

“Hopefully, this will inspire them in taking career paths, or in building their house,” said Lemieux.


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