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Have you tried solar power?

by Joyce Hollister

Two adolescent boys covered with dust installed nuts and bolts on the metal frame of a vehicle – an electric car that would eventually be powered by a battery and the sun through a set of solar panels mounted on the back.

Their eyes gleamed as they envisioned careering around the parking lot in the car they helped to design.

According to Gardnerville resident Marion Barritt, this is just what she had in mind – kids learning by doing.

“To teach children, you have to have something different. The car’s the hook,” she said. Barritt is president of the Sunrise Sustainable Resources Group and a former kindergarten teacher.

The Sunrise Group wants to teach children about “sustainability,” the ability to use solar and other renewable energy sources to power homes, vehicles and public buildings.

In a workshop held at Western Nevada Community College in Carson City Sept. 18-19 and again last weekend, the boys also learned about welding, electricity, engineering, even business, Barritt said.

“They have to understand about the costs of things and about working together to be able to do this,” she said.

Isak Swearingen, 13, and James Fogel, 12, both of Reno, were among the 10 students who took the workshop, aimed at teaching teachers how to incorporate solar energy education in their science units.

Two teachers, Isak’s father, who is a Reno fireman, and several interested adults participated in the workshop.

Instructor Steve Van Ronk of Global Light and Power in Sandpoint, Idaho, helped workshop participants build the car. He works with students all over the country to build battery-powered race cars for a competition known as Electrathon.

This is the first time solar panels were added to the car, he said. But building a race car is not his main focus.

“I care about kids learning mathematics and science and engineering. It gives relevance to the academic stuff they’re learning in the classroom,” he said.

Also instructing the workshop was Ron Swenson of EcoSage Corp. in Santa Cruz, Calif. He enlisted help from workshop students in outfitting a trailer that can be towed to schools around Nevada.

Inside the trailer will be a mobile classroom, dubbed MoSES, or the Mobile Solar Education Station.

Displays and videos will be powered by a solar array made up of 10 solar panels donated by United Solar Systems. The solar panels are stored inside the trailerwhen not in use.

A wind turbine and other kinds of renewable energy systems will be highlighted in MoSES, Barritt said.

Additional work is needed to complete the trailer’s interior classroom, but when it is ready, any teacher in the state will be welcome to use it, she said.

A second teacher’s workshop is planned for February at WNCC, and teachers, parents and young students accompanied by teachers are welcome.

The Sunrise Sustainable Resources Group sponsored the workshop with the cooperation of WNCC, and funds for the MoSES trailer and the Electrathon car were made possible through grants from the William and Moya Lear Foundation and Bently Nevada Corp. A solar inverter was donated by Exel Tech.

The trailer and solar car will be on display during the Sunrise’s annual Solar Tour, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 16 and 17, in Carson Valley, Carson City and Reno.

On Saturday, it will be displayed at Patagonia in Reno. An outdoor clothing company based in California, Patagonia recently installed a photovoltaic system that will eventually provide enough energy to power the outlet store – an equivalent of five 2,000-square-foot houses.

On Sunday, the trailer and car will be on display at Constance Alexander’s straw-bale home in the Johnson Lane area.

Tickets are $10 per person or $15 per couple, and are good both days of the tour. They will go on sale Oct. 2 at Edible Earth in Gardnerville and various locations in Reno and Carson City.

For information about Mobile Solar Education Stations and Electrathon car building and racing, check out http://www.solarquest.com. For information about Sunrise Sustainable Resources Group, call Barritt at 782-7353, or consult the Web at http://www.sunrisenevada.org.

– Amanda Hammon of the R-C News Service contributed to this story.