Yesterday I had the great pleasure of sitting to hear a “pitch” from a group of four students proposing a new green energy patio area as a laptop recharging station.  The students are all participants in our new Innovation course, called Design/Build Technology Innovation, taught by our excellent Physics instructor Dennis Conner.

This is the proposal the students submitted in advance of their “pitch.”


  • Use the Maintenance Building as a “base” for a solar panel recharging system.
  • (Set up display that monitors energy output from the panels.
  • Construct a ramada/patio area that showcases these technologies.
  • In future, we would like to add a wind turbine to the power system.


  • We would like to use the storage closet next to the storage room(old photo lab) to house electronics that should be shielded from the elements.
  • We would like to use the roof of the building to try various orientations of solar panels.
  • We would like permission to build in this area and to use the walls to mount the ramada.
  • We would like help funding this project(approximately $800 -$1000).


  • To expose other students to green technology applications while showcasing a student designed project.
  • To provide a charging station powered on renewable resources for small electronics (laptops).
  • To lay the ground work for future green projects and electronic devices.
  • To make improvements to an area that would benefit from it.
  • To further develop the “Senior” area, which is the least attractive class area.

As the pitch began, the students explained how they used google sketchup to create the drawings of the new recharging station patio they were redesigning.  They found drawing inside sketchup challenging, but they quickly learned how to use the google import function to handle inserting images of solar panels, wind turbines, etc.

The conversation was fascinating; the students worked hard as a team to answer my questions.

We discussed at length the solar panels and wind turbines, and which would generate more energy and why.  They will all flow into a car battery which will store the energy, and they expect the wind turbine to “catch and store energy” all evening– and that it would do so far more efficiently than the solar panels will do.

They explained to me issues of Alternating and Direct Current which the battery creates, issues that surpassed my very limited electrical engineering understanding, issues that they are clearly working very diligently to better master within the scope of the class, but entirely for the purpose of designing and constructing their project.

We then discussed issues of sight-lines: will the wind turbine be visible at all from any neighborhood or public location?  We think not, but the students discussed at some length how they would determine this.

Next up was permitting: I was informed on the research they had already completed on the issues of permitting, but we all quickly agreed that this would require further research, which the team both accepted and assigned to one member.

Safety had already been discussed by the team with our Business Manager, and the students explained to me at some length the analysis they had conducted about required grounding and circuit breakers.   But I asked a few more questions, and told them I needed a separate memo discussing the safety issues and their plan’s attention to them.

The budget required extended analysis, and it quickly became clear that the $800-1000 estimate required much closer analysis.   We discussed thoroughly how to break that number out in detail, and I gave suggestions about what they should be sure to include.

As we worked through the “pitch,” and particularly as we discussed the energy power of the wind turbine, I kept thinking of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the inspirational book I read in December.  I urged the students to read it, and we discussed the way William Kamkwamba did his research and some of the mistakes he made and the lessons he learned.

So as we ended the “pitch” I expressed my enthusiasm for the project and reiterated the additional steps required before proceeding.  We set a second meeting next week, and I can’t wait to return.

The current site for the intended project is here: