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Reducing Our Carbon Footprint with Solar Panels - IDV Bilkent High School Students

A group of volunteer 11th-grade students from the Turkish İDV Bilkent High School and the Slovenian Rudolf Maister Kamnik High School initiated a research project on the issue of renewable energy and its effects on the environment. Climate change and related problems are increasing daily. We believe that these problems can be reduced through effective education and awareness-raising. Based on reliable sources, we started by examining natural disasters around us, and we named the damage done to the natural environment by human hands as "environmental problems." Our research revealed that such environmental problems cause much more damage when compared to natural disasters, a finding which led us to take action.

We learned that 506 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions were produced in Turkey in 2019, 399.3 million tons of which were due to CO2 emissions. We observed that 138 million tons originated from electricity and heat production. From researching renewable energy use, we understand that only 496,805 km2, approximately the acreage of Spain, would be enough to meet the energy needs of the entire world population in 2030, only using solar panels. We realized that solar energy installations could reduce the usage of fossil fuels, and so we aimed to raise awareness through designing a project mainly focused on solar energy panels. We deduced that storage technologies and the installation of panels were costly in the short term and concluded that solar panels were not widely used. We also saw that achieving an 80-90% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030 compared to 1990 values was among the EU's renewable energy targets.

Our first step was to examine panel prototypes and evaluate economic factors. Thus, we visited Gazi Technopark in Gölbaşı to see the operation of solar panels in the field. After a feasibility study, we decided to install panels with a total energy capacity of 2kW to illuminate the main corridor of our school. We initiated a collaborative process with the Ersis Energy company, and Bilkent University’s Construction Works Technical Department. As a result, after studying a suitable location for their placement, six panels donated by the Halk Energy company were installed in our school’s garden by Ersis Energy engineers.

Currently, our school corridor is illuminated with the energy produced by our solar panels. In this way, we have both contributed economically to the school and reduced our carbon footprint. To extend awareness and reach a wider audience, we prepared presentations about our project and conveyed our experiences to partner schools. Our primary and middle school students came to the high school to examine the panels so that they could actively learn about energy renewal. We published a scientific article describing the details of the project in the March issue of "Enerji ve Çevre" and "Synergy" magazines, and an interview related to our project was published in the April issue of the Anadolu Aktüel Magazine. We also participated in a live broadcast on Radio METU's "Öğleden Sonra Kuşağı" on March 18th and Radio TRT’s “Ailece” program.

The “ECO CLIMATE Economy and Climate Change Summit and Fair” held at the ATO Congresium, Ankara, from the 30th to 31st March 2022, attracted 50,000 participants and aimed to support the #greenmovement in combating climate change and its effects on the economy. We set up a stand and gave presentations in the ‘green’ hall, which were appreciated by business people from different sectors, the general public, and students, which allowed us to increase the interaction and impact of our project. On April 22nd, we celebrated “International Earth Day” at our school by organizing various events to draw attention to climate change and environmental pollution. We created an environment where students could exchange ideas and find solutions to environmental problems in five different workshops. We also designed a survey to evaluate the general awareness level of renewable energy, and so far, 535 people have filled out the survey. We aimed to enable our fellow students to positively impact their school environment and society and develop their leadership, communication, and negotiation skills.

We carried out this project together with our project partner, the "Gimnazija in Srednja Sola Rudolfa Maistra (GSŠRM)" school in Slovenia. We have been taking part in video conferences with them since December 2021. Our partner school researched solar power plants in their school buildings and solar panel installation in Slovenia in general. We then participated in presentations at the "Climate Fair" held in Slovenia on April 1st. Ivan Kenda emphasized the importance of an energy-efficient home and making small changes in lifestyle that use far fewer resources like water, gas, and electricity. Kenda also pointed out that we should support the use of more renewable energy in Slovenia as currently, coal is the main energy source at 22%. In attending this conference, both schools wished to raise awareness in an international context about carbon footprint reduction.

Overall, through our joint project, we wanted to demonstrate that renewable energy sources are accessible and cost-effective. We wished to raise awareness of the consequences of dependence on fossil fuels and focus on the importance of creating a sustainable future for humanity. We aimed to show people that we need to work on increasing the use of sustainable energy resources. For example, a solar energy panel of 1MW can meet the energy needs of 2500 households. These panels amortize their cost an average of 7.1 years after installation. Considering that the economic life of a solar power plant is 25 years, solar panel installation is a profitable investment in the long term. The project’s next step will be taken at Bilkent University. Studies have been carried out to install solar panels all over the university in the coming year, which has opened the exciting possibility of a renewable energy campus.


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