20 years of sprinting toward sustainability

by Michael Choe | May 2, 2019

Students constructed solar-powered cars and tested them out in a 20-meter dash.

Twenty was the magic number at this year’s Solar Sprint at Kapolei High School. Students’ solar-powered cars had to cross 20 meters within 20 seconds twice at the competition, followed by another two runs of 20 meters carrying 12 ounces of weight.

We have been collaborating with the Hawaii Department of Education to keep the Solar Sprint program going for 20 strong years!

And this year marked 20 years of Hawaiian Electric collaborating with the Hawaii Department of Education on this event.

On Monday, April 22, seven elementary and middle schools took part in the 20th Solar Sprint, sponsored by Hawaiian Electric. Participating elementary schools were Nanaikapono, Waianae, and Nanakuli. Participating intermediate and middle schools were Kapolei, Waianae, Ewa Makai, and Waipahu.

“It’s amazing to think that the generation of young students who participated in Solar Sprint over the past 20 years are now adults, raising families and part of our state economy and workforce,” said Kaiulani de Silva, Hawaiian Electric director of education and consumer affairs. “I believe we can make great strides in achieving a sustainable and resilient future for our islands by working together with our young students, partners and communities.”

The Solar Sprint is the culmination of a project assigned to students in which they constructed and tested solar-powered cars in two different categories. In the first test, cars had to cross 20 meters (65 feet) within 20 seconds. If two attempts were successful, the student was considered to have met standards. To exceed standards, cars were required to pass two attempts of 20 meters with an additional 12 ounces of weights added to them. No modifications were allowed in between, meaning the same exact car had to be used for both tests.

If the students didn’t succeed the first time around, they would make adjustments and try again.

Multiple trials were allowed, and students were persistent and determined rather than discouraged when their cars failed. They would reset and quickly figure out what went wrong, make any necessary repairs, and try again. In a show of true sportsmanship, students encouraged others from different schools and grade levels, cheering them on and offering their own advice.

Ample amounts of sunlight is vital for an event like this. We needed to have 700 foot candles to keep the event going.

Sunlight was also taken into consideration and attempts only counted when the light meter read 700-foot candles, which is equivalent to the light intensity of 700 candles one foot away from you.

The students had a great time cheering on their cars and peers.

Students were both serious and enthusiastic about the event, going through multiple practice runs and expressing their elation as their cars accelerated across the tennis court. Ben and Keestan from Waianae Elementary School described solar energy as “cool and a better way to save the ecosystem.” Other students chimed in saying the event was interesting and fun, and one of the best parts was seeing their cars move solely by solar power.

But it’s not just the kids that love Solar Sprint. Complex Area Superintendent for Nanakuli and Waianae Schools Ann Mahi explained that the program is made possible because of the strong support from teachers.

Colleen Murakami, Nanakuli and Waianae Complex Area Project Coordinator with Ann Mahi, Superintendent for Nanakuli and Waianae Schools.

“We were going to end the program about nine years ago because funding was not available. However, the participating teachers requested to continue the program and they found a way to buy the supplies, rent the buses, and pay for their substitutes,” Mahi said. With the help of the teachers’ passion for their students and the students’ passion to learn more about solar energy, Nanakuli and Waianae Complex Area Project Coordinator Colleen Murakami kept the event running from the start.

In just the few hours I was there, it was apparent Solar Sprint was an event that everyone looked forward to. Students had a “can do” attitude even when they were unable to pass on their first, second, and third attempts. The teachers were also very involved, making sure that their students passed without giving too much help and by allowing them to problem-solve on their own. Above all, the students understood how solar power worked and knew the benefits off the top of their heads, shouting “It’s free, it’s forever, it works super good, and it’s really clean for the environment!”

Michael Choe is a digital communications and social media specialist at Hawaiian Electric Company.

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