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Students to study with solar panels at Career Academy

Students to study with solar panels at Career Academy

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Ryan Roe, left, of Green Leaf Solar, talks with Jeff Schumacher, center, and Dale Hoerauf with the Bismarck Public Schools Career Academy about the solar panels he recently installed. The 46-kilowatt solar array is large enough to power about seven homes, but it will provide electricity to the academy building and power grid.

Students walking to class at the Bismarck Public Schools Career Academy might come across a huge array of solar panels that just went in behind the building where a number of high schoolers study energy each semester.

“When it comes to solar energy, kids look at you like a deer in headlights,” said Dale Hoerauf, career and technical education director. “They don’t have a good understanding of it. That’s what’s exciting about this project, is we’re going to have a better understanding when we can see what it’s producing.”

North Dakota is essentially dead last in the country for solar installations, according to various rankings, though the industry is beginning to grow in the state. Several arrays went up last year near Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and United Tribes Technical College has installed panels on some of its facilities in Bismarck.

The 115 panels at the Career Academy were installed in late October, and an inverter recently went in to convert the electricity generated by the panels from direct current to alternating current so it can power the building. Hoerauf hopes to eventually have a monitor inside displaying the latest generation and consumption stats.

Engineering and Technical Education Instructor Jeff Schumacher plans to start incorporating the panels into his lessons for the energy and power technology class he teaches to about 15 high school students who learn about fossil fuels and renewables throughout the semester.

“We want them to know about the different types of jobs that are out there,” he said.

Previous classes have included solar energy in the curriculum, but the panels will take the learning up a notch, Schumacher said. At some point, he hopes to have a former student who has worked in solar come in to talk to students.

Schumacher said he too is getting up to speed on the technology. He spent time earlier this month asking questions of Ryan Roe, owner of Missouri-based Green Leaf Solar, as Roe worked on the inverter. The company installed the solar array, which was funded by a $92,000 federal grant administered through the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s state energy program. 

The panels extend 142 feet in length and are stacked about 16 feet high. They face south toward the sun as it moves from east to west throughout the day. The array is tilted 30 degrees below horizontal to better harness the sun’s power given the site’s northern latitude and to accommodate North Dakota winters.

“After a big snow, hopefully what’ll happen is the snow slides down,” Roe said.

The panels end a foot or so above ground, giving any snow that falls a bit of space to pile up once it slides to the bottom.

The 46-kilowatt system is enough to power about seven homes, Roe said.

The panels will help power the building, but they also are hooked up to Montana-Dakota Utilities’ distribution system.

On the weekends when the building is consuming little electricity, the system will produce more power than the facility needs.

“It just starts feeding the grid,” Roe said.

Installing the solar panels falls in line with other decisions made in construction of the Career Academy, which uses geothermal heat and exposes various components of that system -- such as pipes -- for students to use in their lessons, Hoerauf said.

“We just haven’t done a lot with solar,” he said. “I think it’s the next frontier.”

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8252 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.

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