WBHS Earth Club aims to use solar energy to power science department

By: | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published October 10, 2017

WEST BLOOMFIELD — A small group of students at West Bloomfield High School are hoping to make a big impact on the school.

The WBHS Environmentally Aware, Ready to Help, or EARTH, Club has been around since 1993 and involves students in a wide variety of environmentally friendly issues, from recycling to creating a nature preserve on WBHS’ campus.

“We have been on a renewable energy kick,” said club sponsor and physics teacher Joshua Barclay.

 Students from WBHS’ Earth Club pose for a photo with the WBHS Green School flag. The club has announced its latest goal of hoping to power the entire WBHS science department with solar energy by the year 2020.

Students from WBHS’ Earth Club pose for a photo with the WBHS Green School flag. The club has announced its latest goal of hoping to power the entire WBHS science department with solar energy by the year 2020.

Photo provided by the WBHS Earth Club

The latest goal from the Earth Club might be its biggest yet — during the 2016-17 school year, the club announced that its members are taking the steps to completely power the entire science department on solar energy by 2020. 

“Since 2010, solar energy has gone down about half in cost,” said Barclay. “Because solar energy has gotten so much cheaper, our new goal is to install enough solar energy to power the entire science department. The goal is to have the students do everything.”

The club’s plan includes installing a 20-kilowatt solar array — a group of solar panels connected to each other.

In 2011, the high school received a grant from the Michigan Renewable Schools Program, so the club was able to install a 3.44-kilowatt solar tracker —  one that follows the path of the sun — the largest of its kind at any school in Michigan at the time. 

If the 20-kilowatt project is successful, it would be the largest solar array in any school in Michigan and the only one acquired, designed and installed by students, according to the project plan. 

In order to be powered by solar energy, the students have proposed that the science department switch to LED, or light-emitting diode, lighting with dimmable switches and wiring that allows teachers to choose to keep the lights off in parts of the room they are not using. 

“We appreciate the enthusiasm and the excitement,” said Superintendent Gerald Hill. “This project is a true demonstration of what STEAM is all about and what collaboration is all about.” 

The club is working with the West Bloomfield Educational Foundation — as well as the science, technology, engineering, arts and math programs at the high school — and the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association and Ecology Center for support and financial help. 

There are three phases for the project, the first of which is already complete. Students in STEAM classes at WBHS have already measured and audited the energy use of the science department, so they know exactly how much energy is being used in each classroom. 

The next steps of the project are large-scale fundraising, which the club is currently focused on doing, and then finally, installation of the array and implementation of the array into the educational curriculum. 

“Our solution is to actually get the students engaged in the real-life activities necessary to deploy solar energy,” said Barclay.

The club isn’t sure where exactly the 20-kilowatt array could be constructed. The club has identified several potential locations around the campus, including the roof of the high school.

The estimated total cost of the project is about $75,000. The club is pursuing local, state and national grants, and is seeking donations and hosting fundraisers for the project. It has raised about $20,000 so far. 

“I love that these students know how to do this stuff,” said Barclay. “The kids are really, really impressive.”