MDI Students Harness Solar Power

BAR HARBOR — Students at the Conners-Emerson School are learning about renewable energy as they prepare for a regional competition in April.


Students at Conners-Emerson are building solar-powered cars for a competition. — BLAKE DAVIS
Students at Conners-Emerson are building solar-powered cars for a competition. — BLAKE DAVIS

Using solar-cell panels and small electric motors, students in fifth and sixth grades are designing, building and racing model cars in the Solar Sprint Competition.

The electrically powered models will be judged based on speed, originality, technical savvy, and use of renewable materials as well as their overall appeal to other competing students.

The event is sponsored by the Maine Energy Education Program (MEEP), a state initiative to educate young students about alternative sources of energy and renewable technologies.

Students who place in the preliminary competition at the school will be eligible to participate in a statewide competition. This year, 40 students – double the amount from last year – are competing in the preliminary round.

The purpose of the event, however, is not just to compete.

According to Sarah Winne, who coordinates the school’s involvement, the competition also provides a necessary outlet for students who desire more hands-on activities.

“They really get to make their own decisions,” says Ms. Winne. “These aren’t exactly kit cars,” she says. The students use plastic gears, pulleys, wheels and other materials to configure vehicles with minimal direction from adults.

The school received a $150 grant from the Parent Teacher Student Association and was able to purchase the solar panels at a reduced rate of $50 from the MEEP. The fourth-grade class received a $472 John and Ellen Emery Grant to fund the purchase of materials for solar models as well – though they will not compete.

Students are working on their models in groups of three for one-hour blocks over the next several weeks. They will first use batteries to power their vehicles and then graduate to solar panels once their models are completed and the electronics configured.

After the first design session, fifth-grade student Gage Pinkham is already prepared to put his ideas to work. “We hardly had any time to build,” he says.

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