On March 16, 2018 students from the Carlton High School YES! team embarked on a journey of discovery and learning about pollinator habitat and solar panels. At first glance these two topics may seem disconnected but, as we learned, they actually are becoming more integrated every year.
Our day started at the Boreal Natives main office in Esko MN where the staff introduced us to pollinator habitat and the various plants that are native to the NE Region. We discussed how pollinators are struggling due to many environmental factors and how plantings can be beneficial to them.
We also had the privilege of seeing the seed sorting operation at Boreal Natives. Many of the seeds they use in their plantings are hand harvested and processed right there on site to prepare for sale or planting. It was interesting to see the different mechanical methods that have been developed to replicate what “Mother Nature” has been doing for thousands of years. Students were also amazed at how 55 gallons of seeds are reduced down to less than 5 gallons once all the casings, chaff or other protective coatings have been removed.
These plantings are being incorporated into solar installations to make use of the space between the panels and provide the much needed habitat for butterflies, bees, and other pollinators. This brings us to the second half of the day, where the team traveled to Hartley Nature Center in Duluth to learn about their solar installations.
Brett Pence from MN Interfaith Power and Light was our educator for the afternoon. Brett started off with a brief but thorough explanation of how a solar system works and what the various components needed to create the electricity we use daily in our society are. From there we began the tour of the system installed at the nature center.
A roof mounted system consisting of 72 solar panels plus an additional 8 panels on a pole mounted system out by the parking lot create up to 13 kW of electricity. This is often enough to power the needs of the center on a typical day. If they create more electricity than they use it can be sold back to the utility. In 2016 they installed a state of the art storage system which collects excess electricity and will be used during the evenings to offset their need to tap into the grid. This decision brings the nature center closer to its goal of a net zero energy goal.
The Carlton YES! team was very impressed with the system at Hartley and has big dreams of working towards that end at their school. They also realized that it would not happen overnight. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, and today they took that first step.