Solar-powered gizmos and gadgets rule at Earth Day Festival
[Solar Schoolhouse Olympics - Imperial Valley]
J. Ramos IV Press 2005.04.11
At the seventh annual Earth Day Festival at the Imperial
Valley Expo on Saturday, there was no shortage of sun and no shortage
of gizmos and gadgets running on solar power.
The festival, sponsored by Imperial
Valley Regional Occupational Programs and the Imperial
Irrigation District and others, featured exhibits, demonstrations,
games, live music from the Imperial Valley College music department's
Estudiantina and other activities in the Plaza de la Cultura building.
The festival promotes conservation of natural resources, composting
and alternative energy use.
Madaleine Macholtz, one of the event's organizers, said many young
children attend the event and one day one of them may develop a
solution to any energy problem.
"Because we have lots of them," Macholtz said.
Earth Day, celebrated April 22, began in 1970 as a non-partisan
event to promote environmental awareness and conservation of natural
resources. Since then it has grown into an international event with
activities, events and festivals like the one in Imperial County.
Macholtz said the local Earth Day happening began seven years ago
as a way for the Imperial Valley Regional Occupational Program to
promote non-traditional careers in the environmental field. It's
been held at the I.V. Expo since then.
sun shines brightly on the Valley more often than not and practical
use of solar energy was a popular theme at the festival.
Michael Gohl of Niland hasn't paid an electricity bill since 1986.
Gohl, owner of The
Sun Works, said his family lives in a 40-foot GMC bus converted
into a recreational vehicle fully powered by the sun. He also drives
a solar-powered golf cart.
Solar-powered ovens baked biscuits, cooked a turkey and melted
cheese on nacho chips at Gohl's display.
The $200 pre-made oven heats at temperatures of 325 degrees to
375 degrees, Gohl said. You can even make your own with a kit.
"We use it all the time at home," Gohl said.
The solar ovens are convenient for camping in areas where cooking
with fire is prohibited, he said.
The IID offers rebates of up to a third of the cost of home solar
panel installation, Gohl said.
Holtville High School students Karolina Figueroa, 17, and Sonia
Herr, 17, both seniors, powered a radio with solar panels attached
to an umbrella as a physics class project.
Solar radios are available but costly they said, and a homemade
device works just as well.
Five solar panels connected to wires soldered to the battery compartment
are enough to create the 12-volts needed to make the radio work,
Earlier experiments fried a radio, she said.
"Too much voltage," Karolina said. "It started smoking
and didn't work anymore."
They ended up using physics teacher Eduardo Niebla's radio.
Schoolhouse, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade solar education
program, sponsored competitions for area high school students in
solar water fountain and solar home design, solar cooking and solar
Tor Allen, president of the Rahus
Institute, the four-year-old Solar Schoolhouse's parent organization,
said schoolhouse programs are aimed toward solar power literacy
and energy conservation awareness.
Joseph Sanchez, 14, and Sooni Seu, 15, both freshmen at Central
Union High School in El Centro, came away with top honors in the
solar car races at T.L. Waggoner Elementary School in Imperial.
The race car, powered by one 10 and 1/2-inch x 5-inch solar panel
and a 3-watt engine, beat the competition from other high schools
with a unique balsa wood frame that ran along the middle of the
To win, not only did the cars have to go fast, but the design team
was judged on innovation of design, artistic expression and understanding
of what made the car work. The team with the most points won $500
dollars in solar equipment for their school.
High School's solar-powered water fountain design (image at right)
caught the attention of many of the hundreds attending the event.
Placed near the entrance to the Plaza de la Cultura, the 12-foot-tall
abstract structure designed by senior Arely Flores, 17, featured
a black metal figure with a solar panel in its right hand. The panel
powered a 13-volt water pump that kept 1 to 2 gallons a minute flowing.
The panel can be swiveled by a hook to keep the sun's rays hitting
Water spouted from the top and cascaded down into a plastic tub
with decorative rocks from a series of off-center metal trays.
"I love how it came out," Arely said.
Arely said the project took two weeks to complete and that it could
have been done sooner if her team wasn't having so much joy in the
"We goofed around and had fun with it," Arely said.
Central Union High School juniors Alyssa Creiglow, 16, Leticia
Garcia, 16, and Patrick Yanni, 17, displayed a 13-inch by 16-inch
scale model home cooled by a half-volt solar-powered fan.
The two-story three-room house also featured a Trombe Wall. Patrick
said the wall is made of "thermal mass" materials such
as stone, tile or cement. The wall heats during the day and the
heat can be released at night to warm the house.
The home was built to mimic a 2,000-square foot San Diego area
home. Alyssa said the group of geometry students had to determine
sun elevation at noon in the San Diego area before designing the
Exhibits inside the hall featured informational booths from the
Imperial Valley Waste Management Task Force, Imperial County Public
Health Department, New River Wetlands Project and Mesquite Regional
Landfill and also activities for kids like making recycled paper,
paper sundials and beeswax candles.
Central Union High School geometry teacher Bob Macholtz said the
solar power competitions are a way to take principles from trigonometry,
scale factors and slope and turn them into something creative like
Central's solar water fountain entry.
"It took them a while to take from test to application,"
Competitions like the solar car races, solar water fountains and
solar home designs were limited to high school students. An essay
contest for students in grades four through six and a poster contest
in grades seven and eight were also part of the festival and winners
were presented prizes for their entries.
Madaleine Macholtz said the theme for the posters was "California's
Energy Resources" and essays were based on the theme "Why
is Earth Day important."