By Emily Williams
Altamont School is literally soaking up the sun.
This month, Eagle Solar and Light completed the installation of a multi-paneled solar array at the school, effectively creating Birmingham’s first solar-powered school.
“The solar array has just come online, so it’s too early to cite specific figures, but we expect to decrease our power bills while increasing our reliance on clean energy,” said Julie Beckwith, Altamont’s director of communications and marketing.
“Altamont trustee Bruce Denson of Cobbs Allen suggested that Altamont explore solar energy as a financial benefit and environmental stewardship opportunity for the school,” Beckwith said.
With Eagle Solar and Light’s president, Sam Yates, being a long-time friend of the school through family and philanthropy, the school connected with the company as the administration delved deeper into its renewable energy options.
“Working with Eagle Solar has been an incredibly positive experience,” Beckwith said. “Sam was a constant presence on campus during construction of the array and has flawlessly handled every aspect of bringing the array online. He made it all look easy!”
According to Yates, the Altamont installation will generate approximately 22,110 kilowatt-hours a year, accounting for one-fifth of the school’s daytime energy.
Along with generating power, the array presents the opportunity to educate the Altamont community on renewable energy.
Education is one of the key ingredients of sales for Yates and his Eagle Solar and Light crew.
“As Alabama ranks in the bottom 2 percent of the nation for installed solar, it’s not on the forefront of everyone’s thoughts, as you don’t see much of it, think about it, nor talk about it,” Yates said. “In general, everyone is very interested in solar energy as a renewable resource and ask great questions, so it’s an educational process that takes time.”
Paired with the solar array, Altamont is celebrating an energy-conscious year from an educational standpoint.
Each year, the school recognizes a Global Initiative theme that appears across the school’s curriculum throughout the school year. This year’s theme is Energy Resources and Climate Change. As the annual themes rotate, a number of the students will revisit climate change and energy resources in the 2022-2023 school year and can compare it to their present-day studies.
Eagle Solar and Light plans to have a hand in helping articulate concepts within this theme to the students. One method, Yates noted, will involve the construction of a learning kiosk that will educate students about renewable energy as well as the inner workings of the school’s solar array.
As with all of the company’s installations, the Altamont array is equipped with an energy generation monitor that allows the buyer to track, in real time, the amount of energy their system is generating.
Yates has found the feature to be a great way to help buyers feel instant gratification because they can access the monitor with any smart device.
“We are also now installing energy monitors that depict both real time consumption and solar generation,” Yates said. “This information is an incredible resource for allowing consumers to identify wasteful energy sources and become more energy efficient.”
In an effort to allow the entire Altamont community access to the solar array’s monitor, the company plans to install a learning kiosk to display the data.
“In general it will be a ‘smart’ flat screen TV, driven by a programmable computer that depicts both real time and historic energy generation, a web cam that depicts the solar array, an illustration on how solar works, perhaps a statement from the school on renewable energy, etc.,” Yates said. “Think of it as a rotating powerpoint display that can be updated at any time.”
Eagle Solar also will be directly involved in helping educate students on a variety of topics.
Members of the company help out in various classrooms around the city as needed with STEM classes, renewable energy workshops and participatory teaching.
According to Beckwith, Yates has jumped in on the educating while the administration decides where to place the learning kiosk.
“He has also consistently support- ed the educational aspect of having the array at our school, whether teaching a group of sixth-grade students about solar power or coordinating the construction of a kiosk that will show real-time energy use,” she said.