The new solar array visitors see outside Harmony Library has a dual purpose. One is to reduce greenhouse gases, of course.

The other, now that the array is installed and operational, is less noticeable. The installation gave students in the Manufacturing and Energy Technology Program at Front Range Community College a service-learning and active-learning project in which they gained firsthand experience.

Innovate Fort Collins Challenge Grant

FRCC received funding from the city of Fort Collins through the 2017 Innovate Fort Collins Challenge, a competition for innovative projects that help achieve the community’s ambitious Climate Action Plan goals in waste, energy, and transportation.

The city awarded $265,000 to five projects to help the community reduce its carbon footprint by 2020 and beyond. FRCC was one of five winners selected from 58 applications. FRCC’s grant was for $65,212.

The array will generate electricity to offset the power used by the charging station for electric vehicles. The electricity produced by the array feeds into the city’s electrical grid.

Many Winners

Who wins with this project?

  • Electric vehicle drivers who visit Harmony Library on the Larimer Campus. Harmony Library is a joint-use library of FRCC and the Poudre River Public Library District. When this project was pitched (it was a competition), there were no electric vehicle charging stations in the southwest quadrant of the city.
  • Residents of Fort Collins. The community aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2030, with the goal of being carbon neutral by 2050. The solar array provides renewable energy to the charging station, saving an estimated 18 tons of carbon dioxide annually.
  • Visitors to Harmony Library and to the campus. Call this the “seed effect” as visitors have a clean-energy demonstration right before them.
  • Middle school and high school students. FRCC partnered with Pretty Brainy, led by Heidi Olinger, in this part of the project. Pretty Brainy, a Loveland-based non-profit empowering girls in STEAM learning, will give three solar-learning workshops, perhaps inspiring a next generation of scientists. One of the workshops will be girls-only. STEAM is science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics.
  • FRCC Manufacturing and Energy Technology students. Ken Floyd, the faculty, said, “The students worked hard. They learned teamwork. They learned how to solve problems. They gained great experience.”

Students Engage in Active Learning

Students designed, procured, and will maintain the array, a great example of active learning.

Antonio Santovena, who also works as an operator for a data and telecommunications company, said, “This is a stepping stone to my degree. It was the first hands-on experience in the field working on a project. We could ask questions and learn more as we went along.”

He has two more semesters to his degree.

For Paulene Roberts, who has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and completed the Associate of Applied Science in Manufacturing and Energy Technology in May, the benefit of the project was “a step toward the future – not my future but a step in the direction we should be taking in making use of solar and other alternative energy sources.”

Support from the Private Sector

The project also received support from Collins Control and Electric. The company provided 40 hours of expertise. Some of the expertise was provided by Doug Medina, service manager, who graduated from the FRCC program three years ago.

So there’s a workforce development angle, too, as FRCC provides graduates who contribute to the local economy. Make that another win.

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