After months of collaborative work, preparation and careful study, hundreds of Clark County students will meet head-to-head and lay it all out on the track to find out which team’s cars are the fastest of all — even though it’ll be years before most of them get their driver’s license.
The 2020 Solar Car Challenge — an academic tournament for local elementary, middle and high school students — is the time to shine. The event combines the fun of pinewood derby with the educational experience of a science fair.
March 14 is race day. More broadly, it is the culmination of months of hard work and the chance for more than 200 teams to see how their cars stack up against one-another and celebrate their hard work.
“In the months leading up to the race, students and teachers combine lessons in engineering, creative design and solar energy technology to create unique solar cars from kits we provided,” Clark Public Utilities Education Engagement Specialist Amber Hall said. “On the day of the challenge, utility employee-volunteers interview the students and evaluate their designs, engineering processes, understanding of renewable energy and, of course, coordinate the all-day multi-heat race.”
Funding for the Solar Car Challenge is provided by customer contributions to the Clark Public Utilities Green Lights Program. Customers can voluntarily opt into Green Lights to offset their energy consumption by purchasing 100 kilowatt-hour block of renewable energy use for $1 per unit, per month.
The program is open to business and residential customer alike at whatever level is comfortable for them. They can offset their consumption entirely, about $10 a month for an average home, or sign up for a single block for $1 a month.
The proceeds from the sale of Green Lights Renewable Energy Credits are evenly divided between two beneficiaries. One half is used to support renewable energy development around the Pacific Northwest, including wind, solar and biogas facilities.
The other half sponsors renewable energy education initiatives in local schools, such as the Solar Car Challenge. In the programs — offered in Clark County in collaboration with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Clean Energy, Bright Futures program — students learn about renewable energy and energy conservation.
“Before the creation of the Solar Car Challenge, Green Lights funds were used to build demonstration solar array and data monitoring stations on local schools, which allow students to monitor and learn about renewable energy generation in real time,” said Clark Public Utilities Energy Services Project Manager Matt Babbitts. “By 2016, every area district had at least one school with an array, and we knew it was time to pivot.”
The utility began offering workshops to teachers directly. After a day-long lesson on incorporating renewable energy and conservation into STEM curricula, teachers were offered solar car kits for their classrooms along with an invitation to participate in the Solar Car Challenge.
“From the outset our goals have been to foster STEM-specific learning opportunities and to get kids thinking about careers in those fields,” Hall said. “Working with teachers directly enabled us to pass that information to many more students from a wide range of social and economic backgrounds.”
Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668