Global warming has been in the news for years. It remains a concern for those who believe our planet is growing warmer at an alarming rate. In a Virginia high school that focuses its curriculum on science and technology, there is a group of high school students who are working in their neighborhood to help reduce global warming.
Thomas Jefferson High School student Seth Kolker and some schoolmates have been on a mission to realize a graduating student's vision, which is to get solar panels installed on their school's roof.
"When you have a dedicated group of 30, 40 students working together, dedicated and smart students, you can really do anything," said High school teacher and environmentalist Amanda Hurowitz.
Thomas Jefferson High School gets its power from a coal-fired plant. That's cause for concern for environmentally-minded students and teachers.
"And coal is basically pure carbon," noted Kolker. "So when you burn that coal, you're releasing it into the atmosphere, and contributing to global warming."
Most scientists and advocates, like former Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, say burning carbon-based fuels, such as coal or gas, contributes to an increase in the average temperature of the earth's atmosphere, also known as global warming.
In response, some school campuses throughout the United States have added solar panels. Until recently, Washington area schools have been reluctant to join the trend because the considerable initial investment.
But Thomas Jefferson's students were not so easily discouraged. Sophomore Lisa Junta found a way to fund the project.
"…And earlier on, I sent letters to corporations, asking them for money, trying to fundraise for the solar panels," she noted.
"We ended up getting $15,000, and then $20,000, $40,000 and eventually $56,000," added Kolker.
The 22 solar panels on Thomas Jefferson's roof offset approximately three percent of the school's total power needs. It may not sound like much, but with time, the savings can be considerable.
"In about a year, these solar panels can save about five tons of carbon from being released into the atmosphere," he explained.
HUROWITZ: "Let's see. We have 137.2 kilowatts. It's good. $81.94 [saved]."
A solar panel consists of an array of solar cells, which gather energy from the sun and converts it into electricity. Each solar cell sits on a motorized device called a solar tracker.
"So how it works is you have these motors which you call servos, and they spin, so they go clockwise and counterclockwise. What we've done is we've taken the basic spinning motion in a circle, and made it so we can pan and scan with the solar panels."
In this way, the solar cells can follow the sun across the sky.
Though the solar panels are in place and working, the students' quest to help the environment isn't over. In the school parking lot, construction has already started on a house with a "green roof."
There are plans to add more solar panels, while students also look into building wind turbines.
"It was really awesome that this group of high school kids could do this, that we were able to get solar panels on our roof," said Kolker.
Awesome, indeed, and with even grander achievements possibly on the horizon, for the school and its students.