May 14, 2010
Austin Energy and Austin Independent School District Announce New Solar Learning Centers and Curriculum
Austin Energy and the Austin Independent School District today unveiled a plan to establish solar outdoor learning centers at up to 21 AISD schools over the next 12 months. Each learning center will have a fully functional solar installation that will allow for highly visual and interactive lessons on solar energy and other science and engineering concepts. AISD also announced a new TEKS-based solar curriculum being developed that will be taught from the learning centers.
The outdoor learning centers and curriculum are made possible through a $450,000 grant awarded to Austin Energy from the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar America Cities program. Austin Energy will contribute $375,000 and AISD is contributing in-kind services valued at $75,000 to match the grant—for a total of $900,000. The learning centers will be built at mostly middle schools and high schools. The list of schools is expected to be finalized over the next two weeks.
"Studies show that students learn best from real life experiences, and it's especially critical for children who may not otherwise have opportunities outside the classroom," said AISD Superintendent Dr. Meria Carstarphen. "These outdoor solar learning centers will help provide a 'see, touch, and feel' experience on campus."
The Cockrell School of Engineering and College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin are partnering with AISD to develop and deploy an innovative, senior-high-level course to introduce students to engineering careers. The course, among other exercises, will challenge students to explore and understand the design and operation of the solar installation at their campus and to come up with ways to improve the performance of the installation over time.
In addition, Austin Community College is helping to create a high school renewable energy science course with transferable credit hours for students enrolling at ACC. The college offers a certification program and two-year associate degree in Electronics and Advanced Technologies, with a renewable energy track.
The DOE grant is awarded to Austin Energy's Solar for Schools program, begun by the utility in 2006 to promote the use of solar energy and to educate students on the benefits. The Austin Energy program is funded by the utility, the State Energy Conservation Office, and the U.S. Department of Energy. Since the program's inception, Austin Energy has contributed more than
$800,000 to help build 32 solar installations at schools in districts served by Austin Energy. The estimated energy savings for those 32 schools is 136,000 kWh annually—electricity sufficient to power 11 average-sized homes in Austin.
"Green's the word in Austin, where we continue to lead in developing resources that will never run out, like the wind and sun," said Congressman Lloyd Doggett. "Green jobs can help transform the way we do business and the solar learning program can introduce students to the importance of transitioning to a clean, safe energy economy."
"This reaffirms Austin's commitment to preparing future graduates for green jobs," said Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell. "This is a market that will continue to drive the development of the clean energy industry in Austin."
The Department of Energy's Solar America Cities program is built upon partnerships with 25 large U.S. cities to develop comprehensive, city-wide approaches to increasing solar energy use. Austin was named one of the Solar America Cities in 2008 for its commitment to accelerating the adoption of solar energy technologies. The advancement of solar across the country has been one of the key builders of new green jobs.
"Austin Energy is proud to lead our participation in the Department of Energy's Solar America Cities program. In fact, we have been leading on solar energy for 25 years," said Karl R. Rábago, Austin Energy Vice President for Distributed Energy Services. "We are even more proud to do this work, preparing the next generation of solar energy leaders in our community."