Solar Panels

We love doing things that help the earth. We also love learning in fun and interactive ways. So you could say this solar power project has been pretty amazing. The solar farm located right on our campus has so far produced more than 13,000 kilowatts of energy which prevented putting over 9,000 kg of CO2 into the air! Our classes work with the solar panels and use the real data for real life learning.

Take a look at our Sunny Portal to see real time stats of what our solar farm produces.

Solar Panel Farm

History of Solar Farm Project

In December 2012, the solar farm project began when holes were dug and cement was poured to mount the steel frame. During the winter the steel was painted and work began on putting up the frame. On March 15, 2013 community volunteers came and finished construction of the entire frame. During interterm 10 students (Brent Brenneman, Jacob Bruns, Eli Gingerich, Michael Hershberger, Jameson Lammer, Jakob Schmidt, Jacob Schmieder, Spencer Schrock, Kirby Shetler and Thaddeus Yoder) along with instructors Dick Yoder-Short and Aaron Gingerich mounted all the solar modules and began wiring them together. It was especially difficult considering the cold weather, wind and snow that they had to work in. Over the next few weeks Dick, community electricians and Farmers Electric workers finished the wiring.

The project was completed and inspected on April 30 and was energized that same day. On the first full day it produced about 350 kWh of electricity which is what was expected.

Dick says, “Thanks to the hard-working students, the community, the school board and particularly to Joe Swartzentruber for everything they have done in making this project possible.”

First Photovoltaic Array Installed

In 2010, IMS installed a 1.8 kW photovoltaic array for energy education and to produce electricity for the school.

The Iowa Office of Energy Independence (OEI) awarded an Iowa Power Fund Community Grant (CP1009-11-01) to Dr. Dick Yoder-Short of Iowa Mennonite School for community-based energy efficiency and renewable energy projects. IMS received a grant of $9,475 to install a solar array on the school grounds and incorporate energy education into the school curriculum. Farmers Electric Cooperative and Central Plains Solar are partners in the project, providing technical and additional financial support.

The key component of the IMS Community Solar and Education Program is a 1.8 kW tracking photovoltaic array that will be tied to the school’s electrical system. The solar array was installed this spring near the southeast corner of the gymnasium. Data from the array’s energy output is being collected and used as a teaching tool for physics, science and economics. The array’s real time output is posted on the school’s website.

The system can produce a peak power of 1800 Watts or about eight to fifteen kilowatt-hours per day. Check out the Iowa Mennonite School data on the SMA website.

Physics students used the Solar Pathfinder to estimate the daily available amount of sunlight throughout the year. This helps determine the best location for the photovoltaic array.

Sample of Solar Radiation Data
IMS Physics Class
March 24, 2010

The Physics class is divided up into groups of two students per group to measure and calculate the energy we expect to obtain from the photovoltaic array.

With the Solar Pathfinder we are able to determine how much any obstacles will shade the photovoltaic array for each month of the year. We can then calculate the average number of daylight hours of full sunlight received each day of each month. We used the National Renewable Energy Lab data for this calculation. This takes into account cloudy days and the fact that the sunlight is not as intense in early morning or late afternoon as it is at noon. We then calculate the kilowatt hours of power produced each month by the array. The array is rated to produce 1.8 kilowatts for each hour of full sunlight.

This is the data from Collin Miller and Kyle Miller taken on March 24, 2010:

Month Estimated Daylight Daylight Hours Estimated kWh
Hours per day per month per month

Jan 3.78 117.8 212.0
Feb 4.73 132.4 238.3
Mar 5.55 172.1 309.7
Apr 6.66 199.8 359.6
May 7.50 223.5 418.5
Jun 8.12 243.6 438.5
Jul 8.4 260.4 468.7
Aug 7.9 244.9 440.8
Sep 6.6 197.9 356.2
Oct 5.16 160.0 288.0
Nov 3.36 100.8 181.4
Dec 2.79 86.4 155.6
Estimated Total annual kWh 3867

At 12 cents per kWh this amounts to about $465 energy savings per year.
At 1.5 pounds of carbon dioxide per kWh produced by a coal fired plant this saves about 5800 pounds of carbon dioxide per year.

Under supervision of Dr. Yoder-Short and Tim Heisdorffer of Farmers Electric Coop, Physics students assembled the solar array and installed the underground wiring from the array to the inverter.

The system was operational and passed inspection on May 3rd.

Educator Pat Higby came to IMS on Friday, April 23 to speak to students about renewable energy. She talked about solar and wind power and about storing energy from these sources. Pat is from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) and the Center for Energy and Environmental Education (CEEE). Her visit was made possible by funding from the Iowa Office of Energy Independence (OEI) as part of the IMS Community Solar and Education Program.

Students built electric vehicles powered by solar photovoltaic cells and by hydrogen fuel cells. The hydrogen can be generated from solar or wind power and stored for later use. Students from General Science, Biology, Government, Chemistry and Physics were involved in these projects. Discussions continued in later classes as they learned about the physics and chemistry of photovoltaic solar cells and hydrogen fuel cells.

IMS will use real data from the photovoltaic system for future Science and Economics classes.

This project would not have been possible without the Iowa Power Fund Community Grant from the Office of Energy Independence and material and technical support from Farmers Electric Cooperative and Central Plains Solar. Thank you to Jessica Turba of OEI and to Warren McKenna of FEC.