Posted on April 21, 2014

Santa Barbara County: Bright Ideas Grant Fuels School’s Solar Car Races

SISQUOC – Students at Foxen Elementary School were dealing with minimal sun last week, but it wasn’t enough to overshadow what turned out to be a very competitive series of solar car races.

The sixth-to eighth-grade students built the 18 cars as part of a school project where they learned how solar panels worked. They put together the small cars from kits purchased with a $5,000 PG&E Bright Ideas Grantawarded to teacher Chad Hartford — and, on Thursday (April 17), they put them to the test.

See a video of Foxen Elementary School students racing solar-powered cars.

With awards of up to $10,000, PG&E’s Bright Ideas Grants program helps support the understanding of renewable energy in public schools throughout PG&E’s Northern and Central California service area. This year, PG&E announced grants to 37 recipients totaling more than $255,000.

At Foxen Elementary, Hartford proposed the solar car project in his grant application as a way to teach his students with a hands-on activity.

Students took the project to heart and named their cars names such as Sassy Classy, The Big Cheese and Super Bullet. A black and white checkered flag with the words. “Welcome Race Fans,” was the backdrop for a table where all the cars were on display.

The entire school was invited to watch the races, and a crowd of about 100 people – including families of students — attended and cheered as the cars took off.

Not to be outdone, PG&E also had a solar car in the race built by Claire Braico, senior energy solutions and service engineer in San Luis Obispo.

There were several preliminary heats and the day ended with multiple race winners.

Hartford told the Santa Maria Times that the unit helped the students understand how solar panels can provide power and the project also allowed the students to use tools to build the cars. “They were able to use tools that they usually don’t, (like) soldering irons and saws to cut things and utility knives … you don’t see that these days that much,” he told the newspaper.

PG&E’ s Lindsey Miller, teacher Chad Hartford, Paige Beal and principal Doug Brown with the $5,000 Bright Ideas check. (Photo by Blair Jones.)

The students also built solar ovens with the PG&E grant, but there wasn’t enough sunshine on Thursday to cook.

PG&E spokesman Blair Jones and Lindsey Miller, community relations representative, helped celebrate the project by presenting an oversized-check to Hartford, school principal Doug Brown and student Paige Beal, who was serving as principal for a day.

Since 2005, the PG&E’s Bright Ideas Grants Program has provided more than $2.3 million to 370 schools throughout the utility’s service area.

Jones said he believes that skills students learn from hands-on projects like building solar cars could conceivably help them get jobs one day at PG&E.

“I think one of the keys is to start early by drumming up their interest and making science, technology, engineering and math fun,” said Jones.

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