Winds of change at Trinity: School district installs wind turbines, solar flowers

Karen Mansfield

Observer Reporter

On the campus of Trinity High School, an ambitious plan to become a leader in STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art Math) education and promote renewable energy continues to take shape.

Two wind turbines and three flower-shaped solar systems were recently installed at the high school.

The wind and solar systems will lower the school’s energy costs, serve as an educational tool for students and the community, and showcase renewable energy technology, said Dr. Michael Lucas, superintendent.

“The primary purpose is to provide an opportunity for kids to see how this technology functions, how to operate them, how they work,” said Lucas. “We have many different career programs at Trinity, and this certainly will be a training program for those interested in this field if they want to study it in college or in trade school.”

A 30-foot horizontal turbine and two SmartFlower solar systems are located behind the school, while a 35-foot vertical turbine and another Smartflower are in front.

The school district was awarded grants from the Local Share Account and West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund that covered 100 percent of the $110,000 cost of the wind turbines, SmartFlowers and installation.

Trinity is the first high school in the country to install SmartFlowers.

SmartFlower is an adjustable petal system that tracks the sun’s path throughout the day, enabling it to generate up to 40 percent more energy production than traditional solar.

When the sun rises in the morning, the SmartFlower automatically unfolds, and the flower goes back to “sleep” into a folding position at night or whenever high winds make it unsafe to operate.

It also includes a cooling and a cleaning system that brushes the front of each panel every time the unit folds and unfolds, increasing efficiency.

The horizontal and vertical wind turbines demonstrate the different wind turbine designs now available.

Assistant Superintendent Donald Snoke said the wind turbines and SmartFlowers will be incorporated into the curriculum, including environmental science classes, Advanced Placement physics and science courses, vo ag and industrial technology programs, and Life Skills classes.

Snoke gave one example of how students will use the solar flowers: Students will place less technologically sophisticated solar panels alongside a SmartFlower and a small wind turbine, capture energy output into batteries and place outlets outside so people can plug in and power up devices such as weed trimmers.

“Then, we’ll measure energy captured from traditional technology versus the intelligent, high-tech devices,” said Snoke.

David Walters of Castle Energy, the company that installed the wind turbines and SmartFlowers, noted the renewable energy economy remains a large source of jobs.

Jobs in clean energy are growing faster than any other sector in the United States. The most rapid renewable energy job growth has come from the solar and wind sectors, which rose by 24.5 percent and 16 percent, respectively, from 2016 to 2017.

“There are a world of job opportunities available in the trades, in general, and there are tons and tons of jobs available in renewables,” said Walters. “There’s no question about the fact that this is where our energy production is heading.”

Trinity High School principal Thomas Samosky points out that the project isn’t only about the financial benefits.

“When we look at global warming, renewable energies are there, and it needs to become part of the culture,” said Samosky. “One of the goals behind the grant was to educate the community that renewable energies are around the corner, and they need to see how it impacts their lives. It’s coming.”

The high school also houses a Freight Farm, a hydroponic unit in which students grow 1,200 heads of lettuce each week, along with other vegetables and a greenhouse with state-of-the-art equipment – important, noted Snoke, as the impact of climate change on food security is increasingly felt.

“We’d like to be on the cutting edge technologically, but it’s pretty simple. We want to use technology to solve problems,” said Snoke. “We’re trying to address a variety of areas, including energy, with technology to make things better.”