A Solar SunFlower, the first of its kind in the nation, is in operation at the Sacramento City School of Engineering & Sciences in California promoting math and science studies.

SunFlower, an 18-foot-high, 400-watt, student-controlled solar array, acts as an interactive learning laboratory. Students are able to direct its position to harness the sun’s energy and measure the electrical output of its solar panels. Information from the SunFlower is also uploaded to a website where students can monitor its energy production and share the information.

In a Community Solar program, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) in California’s state capital works with local school districts developing teaching guides and curriculum to promote realistic hands-on energy education. A video illustrates the SunFlower project.

Antelope Crossing Middle School is another school benefiting from Community Solar installations where the PV system, consisting of 96 modules, is mounted on top of a composition shingle roof that faces due south. The data monitoring provides real time information which is internet accessible and linked to the school’s web pages. Current, voltage, power ambient and cell temperature and solar irradiation are monitored and updated every few minutes to the web site.

Labs at two local junior colleges, Cosumnes River College and American River College (ARC) also have the advantage of SMUD’s help. ARC offers certificates in Solar Energy Systems Design, Estimation, and Sales after completing training in all aspects of solar photovoltaic (PV) systems.

Other SMUD partners include Sacramento’s Habitat for Humanity. Their homes now feature rooftop solar systems to reduce the eventual homeowner’s electric bills. Those homeowners and volunteers are provided knowledge and job training to facilitate their installation of solar panels during the home’s construction. SMUD also assists qualified non-profit organizations with the installation of rooftop systems. The Sacramento Zoo and SPCA are also grateful to the Community Solar program.

Judges Choice in the Solar Energy Regatta 2012 from Tracy, California

Judges Choice in the Solar Energy Regatta 2012 from Tracy, California

The utility district sponsors several alternative energy activities. For example, they offer their Rancho Seco Lake and Recreational Area as a location and loan the solar panels for the Northern California Solar Regatta. Students compete in boats that they have either retrofitted or built from scratch from their own design. Boats are judged in categories for speed, distance, maneuverability and technology. The purpose of the regatta is to teach students about solar electricity by designing a solar powered boat. In the process they learn about physics, renewable energy, engineering, and communication. The next regatta will be May 17, 2013. You can view a video of this year’s competition here.