Sustainability Fair- 5th graders and solar energy!

This past Thursday we did a short presentation on Clean Renewable energy to all of the 5th graders in Cumberland County. It is a pretty short presentation, so I have compiled the photos and will take you on a short walk through the presentation…

This is the energy mix that TVA uses to provide electricity in the Tennessee Valley region. Notice that 66% of our electrical energy is produced by burning coal. 21% is from Nuclear, and so on down the line until you finally get to “renewable energy” (which is less than 1%).

Does anyone here know why do they call “renewable energy renewable?” — Well, because if managed correctly it does not ever run out. You can use it over and over.

That’s a good thing because: Fuel costs for consumable energies keep going up. We have had a 5% rate increase each year historically in the TVA region. The costs go up because we have to keep mining more coal, we have to keep transporting more coal. As the coal gets more scarce the price will naturally increase. As the safety and pollution guidelines no longer allow unsafe and dirty procedures the prices will also continue to increase.

So…. consumable energy strategies will continue to get more expensive, while renewable energy technologies will only become less expensive (comparatively)… as we are seeing today with the dropping prices of solar energy systems.

Does anyone know what is done with the stuff left over after they burn coal? (It’s called coal ash) They put it in a pile…. good! What happens when that pile gets too big? They make another pile… good answer. What happens if they accidentally allow the pile to get too big?

Does anyone know what this picture is? Yeah, it’s a house that was washed away by a whole mudslide of left over coal ash. TVA had been storing their leftover fly ash in a huge open air pit, and the retaining wall broke open and spilled out and destroyed a whole neighborhood.

What happened to all that ash after it wrecked the neighborhood? Yes…. It washed down into the river. Where do we get our drinking water from? Yes….that very river. This is what happened about 30 miles from here at the TVA Kinsgton Fly Ash Spill about 3 years ago.

Does anyone know what this picture is? Yeah, it is pollution, but more specific than that…    Yes, it is a picture of a nuclear power plant over in Japan. You all remember the earthquake that happened a couple of years ago over in Japan and then the Tsunami? You probably saw all of the videos of cars being washed away by that tidal wave. Well– that Tsunami washed away the backup diesel power generators at the Nuclear reactor straight out into the ocean, they had no power to pump water into the reactors. They need to continue to pump water into the reactors to keep them cool or they get too hot and eventually —- meltdown (or explode). This is what happened at Fukushima.

They have been cleaning up the mess over there for the past 2 years. Do you know how they are doing that? No, not with shovels; No, not with their hands – if they did that they would die!; No, not with helicopters. They are using remote controlled bulldozers, backhoes and heavy equipment to start to clean up the mess over there. They can’t even get close to the area because it is all radioactive… very deadly. The whole town has been dislocated.

Do you know when they will be done cleaning up that mess over there? No…, not in 2 years. No, not 5 years from now. They estimate that they will be done cleaning up that mess when all of you guys are about 42 years old! It will take over 30 more years to clean up this one mess. Do you know how much that will cost? Yeah, a lot. They can’t even begin to estimate the real cost of the clean up! Of course any number they put on it will be way less than what it will actually cost. They won’t even be able to approach the one reactor for over 10 years! It is a mess of monumental proportions.

Actually, we aren’t totally against Nuclear energy. In fact we are pretty big fans of nuclear energy!

Does anyone here know what this picture is? Yes… the sun! It is a huge nuclear reaction that we have learned how to harness. We can capture the rays of that (far away) nuclear reaction and generate electricity here and now. Nuclear energy is great – as long as it is 93 million miles away. Nice and safe- and we don’t need to worry about radioactive nuclear fuel, or transporting fuel or disposing of waste. It will still be shining tomorrow and the rays of the sun will not cost any more next year than they did last year! The perfect renewable energy!

Now that the costs of these solar systems are about that of a used car, (a small 2 kW system for under $10k) everyone can use solar energy and stop worrying about the rising cost of “consumable energy.”

Here is a small solar panel. We have it hooked up to the train set. The train is being totally powered by the rays from the sun. Everyone come up here and put your hands over the solar panel to shade it and see if you can slow that train down so that it is just creeping around the track! Good job!

Any questions about solar energy?

…No, it doesn’t work at night, but the solar panels on the other side of the world are working! We normally stay connected to the grid so that we can use energy even in the evenings. Of course we can store the electricity in batteries if we want too, but that is still pretty expensive…

….No, normally we stay connected to the Grid, so that you can use energy even on a cloudy day (or at night). So when the grid goes down, these types of solar systems are NOT a back up system. Think about it…. if your system kept on producing power even though the grid was down when they came out trying to repair the grid your system will be live and generating power. You could blow the poor utility worker right off the pole as they were trying to fix any broken wires. You don’t want that on your conscience… do you?

….No this is just a small demonstration solar panel. The kind that we install on houses and office buildings are about twice as big as this one and much stronger. Also, we normally put 10-20 of them up on the roof.

….We started installing these systems about 4 years ago, and in that short period of time the prices have dropped almost in half. The prices are dropping very fast for solar energy systems! You will probably all have them on your houses (when you have houses) because they make so much financial sense even today! Only more so in the years to come.

….Yes, I do have one of these solar systems on the roof of our house. It is a small system, but we are making almost $45 per month from the utility company.

….Of course I would be happy to hire you when you get a little bit older. Officially I can’t hire you until you are over 18. But I’ll certainly keep you in mind!

….Well, I am wearing these sunglasses because the sun is powerful and has to be respected even at 93 million miles away. Would any of you look directly at the sun? No way…. your eyes can get damaged. I have been out here all morning in the direct sunlight, so I wanted to protect my eyes. Also, this “danger” that the sun provides is the exact reason that we can harness it’s energy- without the danger we would not be able to harness the sun using  solar modules.

Here is a short outline of the presentation as a “MindMap.”

Enjoy the sun,

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