EnergyWhiz and Earth Day: Changing Gears Yet Still Celebrating with Fun Solar & Environmental Activities

EnergyWhiz sun logo holding Earth in it's hands.Although COVID-19 put the brakes on the annual EnergyWhiz event and Earth Day celebration at FSEC Energy Research Center in Cocoa this year, there are many ways to celebrate Earth Day’s 50th Anniversay while also meeting social distancing guidelines.

FSEC offers several free online activities and fun experiments that students, teachers, and parents can do right from their homes.

  • Did you know that you could cook without electricity or fire? Learn how to make several different solar ovens using simple materials.
  • Did you ever wonder how people used to tell time without a clock or watch? Learn to make two different sundials.
  • Do you know how to purify water using only a few simple materials? Discover how easy it is to learn one way to be self-sufficient.
  • Do you need to relax and be creative at the same time? Feel free to color outside the lines of an environmentally-focused coloring book:
    • Planet Janitor. This English/Spanish editionThe Planet Janitor Coloring Book Spanish/English Edition environmental coloring book illustrates how the world is in our hands.
    • Take a Trip to Clean Air. This environmental coloring book explores the various alternative fuels available for transportation.
  • TEACHERS: Did you know FSEC offers a solar curricula for students in grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 that meets Florida State Standards?

Learn about these activities and more at: http://www.energywhiz.com/

EnergyWhiz—a renewable energy-focused event for students to demonstrate their science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) capabilities through project-based learning activities—will be back next year, shining a light on student creativity, ingenuity and teamwork. Mark your calendars for April 24, 2021. Learn more at: www.fsec.ucf.edu/go/energywhiz.

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UCF Leads National Team to Study Floating Solar

Photo courtesy of Orlando Utilities Commission.

The University of Central Florida will lead a nationwide team to study the performance and long-term scalability of floating solar panels thanks to a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office.

UCF’s Florida Solar Energy Center was selected to study the performance of floating photovoltaics (FPV) solar technology and how it interacts with water quality and biodiversity in Florida, California and Colorado.

The unlikely combination of electricity and water is the foundation of an emerging energy market in the United States. FPV is electricity-generating solar panels, affixed atop buoyant platforms that float on water.

Limited land availability, reduced site-preparation costs, and the opportunity to utilize man-made bodies of water, such as reservoirs, retention ponds and wastewater storage ponds, are among the reasons for FPV popularity. According to an October 2018 World Bank report, floating solar grew 100 percent from 2014 to 2018, although primarily outside of the U.S.

It is speculated that floating solar results in cooler cell temperatures, and subsequently should be more efficient than land-based systems. FPV may also reduce evaporation rates and algae. Research documenting the performance, durability and environmental impacts of floating solar is limited, but that’s about to change. The research project is expected to begin early next year.

“We’ll be taking an in-depth look at the floating photovoltaic systems over the next three years,” says John Sherwin, principal investigator of the project and program director at FSEC. “This project is the first of its kind in the U.S. and we are excited to be part of a world-class research team that will collect critical data on this emerging technology.”

Partners include: University of California Davis, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Orlando Utilities Commission, City of Orlando and Ciel & Terre.

The project will monitor the performance, durability, water-quality impacts and biodiversity interactions of four existing floating solar sites across diverse climatic regions: humid subtropical in Florida; subarctic/boreal climate in Colorado; and two warm summer/Mediterranean-type climate sites, in California. Land-based systems in those same regions will also be monitored for comparison.

UC Davis will lead the environmental analysis part of the project.

“We’re particularly interested in how floating photovoltaics affect water quality and interactions with wildlife, including birds, bats, turtles and other aquatic life,” says  Rebecca R. Hernandez, an assistant professor at UC Davis and co-director of the Wild Energy Initiative. “A better understanding of those impacts can help us make better decisions about siting renewable energy infrastructure and can reduce future costs.”

The Orlando Utilities Commission was an early adopter of floating solar and installed a 31.5-kilowatt system in February 2017. The floating solar array, located on a pond at the Gardenia Operations Facility (near John Young Parkway and I-4) and tied to the electric grid, will be part of the study.

“We continue to work closely with our partners to enhance solar deployment in Central Florida, and to determine how best to implement the latest technologies,” says Justin Kramer, supervisor of Emerging Technologies at OUC. “With so many ponds and lakes already devoid of trees, there is potential to greatly increase our solar output.”

Floating photovoltaic systems covering 27 percent of the identified suitable water bodies could produce almost 10 percent of current national generation, according to National Renewable Energy Laboratory researchers.

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City of New Smyrna Beach Hires FSEC to Conduct Building Audits and Solar Studies

New Smyrna Beach seal. In center of seal are boats without sails sitting in water, with palm leaves on edges.

The City of New Smyrna Beach is considering solar and renewable energy resources for their municipal facilities, and has hired FSEC’s interdisciplinary team of energy analysts and solar engineers to conduct energy audits and solar feasibility assessments for 18 facilities.

The energy audits will identify cost-effective measures for reducing building energy consumption in order to optimize the expenditures for solar equipment. The solar feasibility assessment will detail the best options for renewable energy, including sizing, installation costs, maintenance costs, system life expectancy, and return on investment. FSEC will provide recommendations for reducing the city’s overall electrical demand and also for developing attainable goals for incremental solar and renewable energy installations.

For more information, contact Faith Miller, New Smyrna Beach Maintenance Operations Director, fmiller@cityofnsb.com, or Colleen Kettles, FSEC Program Director, ckettles@fsec.ucf.edu.

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WARNING: SCAMMERS Posing as Florida Solar Energy Center

Warning sign, red outline triangle with black exclamation point in middle, cludy blue sky background
WARNING! Scammers posing as FSEC.

WARNING: SCAMMERS are posing as the Florida Solar Energy Center. FSEC® has received several reports from consumers that they are receiving multiple calls (from different phone numbers) from a telemarketer posing to be the Florida Solar Energy Center. In some cases, they are even being referred to the FSEC website. FSEC is a research institute of the University of Central Florida (UCF). FSEC will not call consumers to offer help with an electric bill, offer a free estimate, or solicit information for a purchase.

UCF recommends you file a complaint at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC): https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/stop-unwanted-calls-and-texts.

You can also visit the Florida Office of the Attorney General website for Consumer Protection.

Solar contractors must be licensed to do business in the state. You can check licenses at: http://www.myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/

Learn how to protect yourself from robocalls: https://consumersunion.org/end-robocalls/

UCF has trademark registrations for FSEC® and other related FLORIDA SOLAR ENERGY CENTER marks.  Unauthorized use is a violation of federal and state laws.

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