Cloudy Skies Add to Real-World Learning Challenges at EnergyWhiz

By Sherri Shields

COCOA, Fla.,  May 21, 2018—A blanket of cloud-covered skies can be a real challenge for students to race Junior Solar Sprint (JSS) cars and keep solar oven temperatures sufficient for cooking.

Sam’s Speed Shop from McLane Middle School in Brandon, FL won first place in Race competition, second place in Most Innovative Design, and third place in the Best Design competition in the Blue Division (grades 7&8). Photo: Liza Robles

Although the sun never peeked through the clouds for the EnergyWhiz competitions on Saturday, May 12th, at the University of Central Florida’s Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa, the JSS cars were still able to race. “One thing we’ve learned since hosting EnergyWhiz for the past 15 years is that if you want to stay on schedule, you need a backup plan in case the weather doesn’t cooperate,” said Susan Schleith, K-12 Education program director. “Battery backup is now an essential part of the car design, for situations like this.”

Female student from Saturn Elementary School and a male student prepare to race their Junior Solar Sprint cars, which were modified to run on batteries instead of solar due to the cloudy sky.
Female student from Students prepare to race their Junior Solar Sprint cars, which were modified to run on batteries instead of solar due to the cloudy sky. Photo: Leon Flowers

New to the JSS competition this year are two teams from Saturn Elementary School’s After School Program. An Army Education Outreach Program (AEOP) grant provided funding for Schleith to work students who are underserved and underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. “I was able to work with the afterschool coordinator and students two days a month for nine months,” said Schleith. The MX team finished in fourth place, and the Shakamelina team ranked in the top 10. “The kids had a lot of fun. You can tell how proud they are of what they did,” said Marilea Pittenger, afterschool coordinator at Saturn Elementary.

Solar Energy Cook-off

Two male students stand along side their foil-lined, foldable cooker that has two side-by-side insulated pots in the center.
Sun Food from Martinez Middle in Lutz, FL earned a first place in Best Design and the WOW! Award in the Yellow Division (grades 4-6). Photo: Nick Waters
Team Sabores Grill (three female and two male students) stand along side their solar cooker, which incorporates the lens from a TV mounted on a stand.
Sabores Grill team from Lake Nona Middle School earned first place in the Solar Energy Cook-off Best Design, first place in Culinary, and the Wow! Award in the Orange Division (grades 7-8). Photo: Nick Waters

Backup plans for solar cooking are not as simple. Solar Energy Cook-off teams typically have backup recipes in case the sun is hidden behind the clouds, and most of the teams did this year. A few teams weren’t able to present anything to the tasting judges, but that didn’t stop them from discussing with the judges what they had planned and had tested prior to the event. “I give them credit for having the determination and creativity to follow through the process and not throw in the towel,” said Cheryl Thorn, Solar Energy Cook-off team leader.

Solar Energy Cook-off teams use digital or infrared thermometers to help ensure food is safe for tasting. Solar Express from Milwee Middle School, who earned second place in Culinary and Best Design, still managed to cook thin strips of steak for their steak fajitas. How’d they do that? “A good solar cooker design can make all the difference,” added Schleith. Solar cooking can be fun and Izaac Gonzalez from Milwee Middle School’s Solar Express adds, “My favorite part about this competition is that I get to eat the leftovers.” The instructors were pretty excited about EnergyWhiz too. “It’s gratifying to see the students perform well in front of the judges, being able to translate what they’ve learned in class into a real-world situation,” said Carol Unterreiner, Milwee Middle School instructor. “And then to a get a thank you from a student who felt he was able to adequately answer the judges questions about what he had learned, makes it all worthwhile,” added John Kallin, partner instructor. Solar cooking teams are judged in the categories of Culinary, Best Design, Wow!, and Fresh From Florida, which incorporates Florida-grown ingredients.

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FPL Offers 50%* Discount Toward Training at Florida Solar Energy Center

In an effort to make professional training for the installation of solar water heating (SWH) and photovoltaic (PV) solar systems more accessible to licensed electrical, plumbing, and solar contractors and their employees, Florida Power & Light Company is offering a discount for training classes conducted by the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) in Cocoa, Florida.

How it works:
1. Visit and fill out the eligibility form
2. FPL will verify eligibility and send an email with a promotion code
for the discount
3. Visit the FSEC website to register for the course(s) and enter the promotion code to receive the discounted course pricing

An essential part of the workshops are the installation instruction sessions. These concentrate on proper system installation and include roof mounting and sealing of both photovoltaic modules and solar water heating collectors on various Florida roof types. This includes a basic understanding of the design and installation methods used to ensure that modules and collectors are securely mounted. Identification of the various hurricane wind regions in Florida and the maximum wind speed requirements solar panels must withstand in each region.

Students attending the FSEC workshops will receive an “FSEC Certificate of Course Completion” once they successfully complete the course(s). Florida Construction Industry Licensing Board and Electrical Industry Licensing Board continuing education credits are also available for those taking the Photovoltaic System Workshop (18 credits). These are credits that licensed contractors need for renewal of their license.

* In order to be eligible for the discount, class participants must work for a licensed electrical, plumbing or solar contractor doing business in FPL’s service area, provide their valid contractor license number and agree to the terms releasing FPL from any liability. FPL discount available for all Solar Water Heating Systems and Photovoltaic Systems Workshops offered through 2014.

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Director's Message: Fuel Price Solutions – The Long and Short of It

Fuel price reduction by energy-efficient vehicles, oil drilling, speed limits, or ethanol?
Fuel price reduction by energy-efficient vehicles, oil drilling, speed limits, or ethanol?

Over the past few months, high oil and gasoline prices have had pundits and politicians flailing away about what we should do.  On the one hand, some believe the United States is sitting on countless oil deposits, and the quickest, best solution is to poke holes in the ground and watch gas prices fall. On the other hand, weathered industry professionals, such as retired oil baron, T. Boone Pickens, realize an immediate need for independence from oil, whether domestic or foreign.  In Pickens’ recently purchased TV spots, he clearly states that “we can’t drill our way out of this emergency,” and in a recent interview with CNN’s Lou Dobbs he said America should utilize its cleaner, cheaper, abundant resources, such as natural gas, wind and solar power.

The U.S. consumes about 21 million barrels of oil per day (mbd) – roughly 25 percent of total world oil production.  We import almost two-thirds of what we use (14 mbd ) from foreign countries.  The cost of these imports is approaching $2 billion per day ($700 billion per year at $136 per barrel).  This is a significant drain, both on the finances of individual households and on our national economic security.

What are the near term (three to five-year) options?

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FSEC and UCF Researchers Traveling to Romania to Participate in NSF-Funded Workshop

Through collaboration between the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Nanoscience Technology Center (NSTC) and the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), a group of researchers from both UCF institutes will travel to Romania in June 2009 to participate in a five-day workshop exploring new developments in nanoscience and solar energy. The goal of this workshop is to formulate ideas about how to stimulate and give direction to future research collaborations between Romanian and UCF research teams.

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FSEC Solar Energy Experts Offer Renewable Education in Aruba

Like most industries throughout the world, the resort industry is seeing a growing trend in the use of renewable energy and “green” practices. More and more hotels in tourist destinations across the globe are trying to be good stewards to their visitors, as well as to the environment, by utilizing renewable energy applications for powering their facilities, rather than passing off the current high energy costs to customers through higher rates. Seeing the industry take such positive strides is what inspired researchers at the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC) to develop a program to promote eco-tourism in the Caribbean, one of the most popular tourist destinations, and around the world.

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