Not your grandfather's solar power: Flagler students harness the sun to bake brownies
William Garity, who likes to be called “Mr. Bill,” opened the eyes of Flagler students on Feb. 16 with stories about criss-crossing the country last summer in his vintage, turquoise VW van — which he had specially equipped with solar panels.
Garity, who runs TEO (The Energy Outlet) Solar based in Bunnell, has been in the business of installing solar panels for residential and commercial clients for 34 years. Leading a workshop for Old Kings Elementary second-graders and high school students at i3 Academy, on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School, he emphasized how far alternative energy has come since the days Garity crafted a handmade solar oven in college. He still has the oven, and he showed it off to students, as they prepared to use solar ovens of their own.
Students in Asher’s class have been working on a unit about solar energy and came to the Feb. 16 workshop with drawings explaining how the method gathers and collects the sun’s rays to power everything from hot water taps in homes to backyard pools.
“Why is solar power important to our environment?” read one of the illustrations second-graders presented to the group.
“Because we won’t waste fossil fuels,” Evan Johnson, one of Asher’s students, answered.
The highlight of the morning may have been an experiment the collective group did to bake “solar brownies” in several sun ovens the district purchased for science classes. VandeBunte explained that while the brownies were supposed to take about 12 minutes once the solar-powered ovens (basically a glass-covered compartment for placing food items surrounded by mirrored panels that extend upward toward the sky to collect sunlight) reach 325 degrees, in this case they took about an hour because the temperature of the ovens never rose above 250 degrees.
The results were still delicious, VandeBundte said, and students commented that the taste and texture of the brownies were indistinguishable from those cooked in a conventional oven.
Garity regularly leads workshops at area schools to introduce young people to the benefits of solar energy technology. Whereas he used to charge about $12 per watt of solar energy produced in his installations, the cost has gone down significantly over the last 10 years, and he now is able to charge about $3 per watt. Customers can apply for 30% of their initial investment to be subsidized by tax credits, he said.
“It’s an investment that pays itself off pretty quickly,” said Garity.