News Column

Fort Lauderdale Science Museum Discovers the Sun

Jan. 8, 2013

Larry Barszewski, Sun Sentinel

Solar power is getting a high-profile position at the Museum of Discovery & Science -- a spot right above the museum's main entrance.

The solar panels are being installed on the front facade of the museum facing Southwest Second Street and will serve double-duty as an alternative energy source for the museum and as an educational tool for visitors.

"As a science museum, we need to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk," said Kim Cavendish, the museum's president and chief executive officer. "We certainly support the idea of alternative energy resources."

Florida Power & Light is paying about $250,000 for the 99 panels and their installation, as well as an accompanying exhibit at the museum on solar energy. The panels should be completed this week and the exhibit within the next few months.

"We're partnering with nonprofits such as science museums across our service territory to put educational solar arrays where people can learn about renewable and clean energy," FPL spokesman Erik Hofmeyer said. "Students or kids visiting the museum can go in and see just how much energy the solar array is producing."

The installation is larger than one used in a typical house, but it'll make only a dent in the museum's electric bills.

"It's probably enough to run the power to our new otter habitat for a year. That's how we look at it," Cavendish said. The solar panels can produce 25 kilowatts of energy.

The line of panels stretches across the entire south-facing front of the building. The panels have a white undercoat that blends in with the building.

"It's actually a wall-mounted canopy that we designed here in the office to withstand winds of 180 mph," said Mike Vergona, owner VB Engineering, the Boca Raton company doing the installation. The company is also working on the educational exhibit, which will include a 42-inch screen showing how much energy is being produced at any time, along with wind sensor and temperature readings.

"I certainly hope as we go forward into the future, we will be able to expand our dependence on solar energy," Cavendish said. "I would hope we could install solar sheeting on our roof, because we have a very large flat roof."

FPL is also installing smaller 5 kilowatt arrays at a number of schools. The arrays, which can each power about three classrooms, should be completed by the end of February in Broward at Panther Run Elementary, Blanche Ely High, Tropical Elementary and Attucks Middle. The Palm Beach County schools have not been determined yet.

"We'll also be working with science teachers at the schools so they can give lessons about renewable energy," Hofmeyer said. "Each school will receive teacher training and educational materials."



Source: (c)2013 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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