On July 4th, I joined an intrepid troop of year 4 students from St Bart's school in Brighton to venture to Dunsfold Solar farm for Solar Independence Day celebrations, courtesy of Solar Schools sponsor Good Energy.
Sporting our yellow Good Energy tops - a very fitting colour for the location and the weather - we had a bit of a Q&A on the journey, where students answered all sorts of questions about solar energy, solar farms and general sunny facts. They were especially amazed that in just one hour, the earth receives more energy from the sun than we could use in a whole year! Just when I thought the day could well have peaked somewhat prematurely, we drove into the field and wonder ensued!
"There were thousands of panels, all slanted!"
We were joined by Mark, one of the Lightsource team who own the solar farm, who gave the students a tour of the site. He started with the basic facts, explaining the sun's energy through the medium of a solar powered grasshopper that danced when the sun hit it, naturally.
We were then lead round the farm, learning all about the panels and exactly how they work, why they're slanted (this allows them to absorb more of the suns energy), what the big yellow boxes do (invertors which make the energy produced suitable for our elecricity grid) and the purpose of the fans - turns out we weren't the only ones at risk of overheating!
"When it's overheating they turn it down - there's a fan in the yellow box."
Sheltering from the midday sun under the panels, we ate our lunch before learning about the biodiversity of the farm. Mark explained that the solar farms don't just generate huge amounts of clean energy, but they're working hard to be important spaces for biodiversity too. Plus, we learned that some farms provide grazing space as well as electricity, for sheep and even alpacas.
"The sheep lie under the panels for shade."
Lightsource often have meadows and wildflowers to ensure that biodiversity is maintained on the farms - working with their own seed farmer to tailor to each site - so the pupils were encouraged to do a bit of wildlife spotting. With hindsight, releasing a bunch of excited, chatty 8 year olds may not have been that conducive to spotting shy fauna...
It was a great day out for all, there's nothing like a dancing solar bug and some sunshine to amp up the learning! In fact, the pupils loved it so much that once back on the bus they declared it 'the best trip ever". High praise indeed!