Solar Classroom

Let the sunshine in

If you wanted to learn how to install solar panels, you could sit in a class, take notes, and watch how-to videos. Or you could take a short stroll to the southern edge of campus and install the panels yourself.

At JCCC, chances are you’ll do both.

The hands-on experience will be offered in a new classroom called a Solar Technologies Operations Module (STOM), which is actually a freight container (soon to be two freight containers fused together).

The 40-foot orange box abuts the farthest edge of the Galileo parking lot, on the outer campus road south of the Industrial Training Center. It is the working classroom for solar technology at JCCC, an innovation spearheaded by Dan Eberle, assistant professor, energy performance and resource management.

An $82,000 grant from the Department of Commerce allowed the college to purchase solar photovoltaic equipment for student training. (Solar voltaic equipment converts solar energy into electricity.)

A $20,000 grant from the Department of Energy allowed for the purchase of solar thermal equipment. (And like its names hints, solar thermal equipment converts solar energy into heat.)

Both technologies will be taught inside – and outside – the box. A string of batteries inside the container will store 10,000 watt hours of energy using the solar power created by the photovoltaic equipment. A water heater will provide hot water and climate control for the container’s interior, fueled by solar power created by the solar thermal equipment.

By using these technologies, the STOM will be “off the grid,” meaning it will not be connected to local power or gas companies. All energy the container/classroom needs will be created and stored by the STOM’s equipment.

“With these batteries, we’re going to be creating our own power company. That’s our version of KCP&L [Kansas City Power and Light]. It’s JCCCP&L,” Eberle said.

The string of batteries should be enough to supply the full electric demands of a typical classroom, especially one that is not in use 24 hours a day, Eberle said. Additionally, the batteries will provide storage for the energy created on brilliantly sunny days to be used during cloudy days or evenings.

The water heater will be connected to a series of radiators, a storage tank and a working sink within the STOM. The water, used for both heat and hygiene, will be heated up to 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

Each semester, students of the energy performance and resource management program will install and de-install the key components of the STOM to gain practice in how the system is put together.

One final touch is yet to come: décor. Eberle is looking for a student artist to apply graffiti (“it has to be approved graffiti,” he said) to the outside of the STOM. He wants the module to have its own personality, and a respectable but cool “tagging” might be just what the box needs to look less like a freight container with solar equipment and more like an object d’art. (Taggers can email Eberle directly.)

“This is right on the ring road to campus. Everyone will see it,” he said. The more people who do see it, the more people will ask about it, and perhaps the more people who will consider incorporating solar energy, Eberle said.

“It’s an advertisement. My goal as an instructor is to teach people how to do this, but my real passion is as a proselytizer: I want people to do this because it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “The more people that see it, the more likelihood that they’ll actually do that.”