Island Forum | Student project to bring solar panels to high school

With the help of local businesses, nonprofit organizations, the school district and Island residents, Mercer Island High School will be home to a 6.9kW solar panel system this spring. My Senior Culminating Project is to install a state-of-the-art solar panel system to completely power the MIHS student store and marketing department as a demonstration project for advancing sustainability practices in the school district and community.

The project’s overarching mission and purpose is:

• To increase participation in sustainable energy usage and environmental conservation in our community and schools.

• Develop partnerships with the Mercer Island Rotary Club, city of Mercer Island, Mercer Island School District, IslandVision and the Green Ribbon Commission to promote greater awareness for sustainability among students and residents on Mercer Island.

• Involve students in a variety of learning activities that tie directly to the district’s 2020 Vision of providing “more personalized learning where student-centered education is responsive to students’ strengths and learning styles, interests, passions and affinities.”

The funds acquired will provide all the materials and services needed to install a state-of-the-art solar panel system at Mercer Island High School. The power output generated from this system will be displayed in the school building and on our district’s Web site 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Through extensive student marketing and outreach efforts, our hope is that this project will serve as a springboard for future sustainable and environmental conservation projects across our community.

From an instructional perspective, this project will empower students to apply academic skills toward the expansion of renewable energy systems. Students from kindergarten through 12th grade have the potential to benefit from this project as well. Classes will be able to remotely monitor power generation over time and measure the economic and environmental benefits.

The solar panels have a life expectancy of 30 years, which will provide the school with energy and a powerful visual for sustainable learning for the next three decades. As the district shifts toward partnering with the city of Mercer Island and IslandVision to move toward carbon neutrality, my hope is that other students will want to add more panels and seek additional energy conservation and generation solutions.

Following nine months of research and grant writing, I secured a $5,000 donation from the Mercer Island Rotary with a matching grant from the district Rotary. This initial seed money will pay for the first nine photovoltaic panels of the system, including all of the installation parts, micro inverters, electronics and permits.

Each additional 230 watt solar panel unit costs $1,200. While the project can get off the ground with as little as $13,000, my goal is to raise $36,000 to purchase 30 panels. I invite Island residents, businesses and organizations to contribute additional panels and become part of the sustainable legacy. You will be helping to reduce greenhouse gasses by about 403,717 pounds, which is the equivalent of conserving 497 barrels of oil, or producing 244,677 kWh of carbon-free energy in the lifetime of our solar electric power plant.

To make a donation, please write a check payable to the Mercer Island Schools Foundation P.O. Box 24172, Seattle, WA 98124-0172 and include “Solar Panel Project” in the memo line.

Harry Bolson is a senior at Mercer Island High School.

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