Students close the information gap on solar panels for residents

From left to right, Scarsdale High School seniors Andrew Kass, Jacqueline Newman, Ryan Collins, and Madeline Bonanno present their final project to their City 2.0 class.

After waiting for several minutes, Emily Block stood up to address her City 2.0 class in the Little Theater at Scarsdale High School. The students, all seniors, were about to present their final community action projects, which they had worked on since the beginning of March.

“This is a great opportunity because all of you have been very focused on your particular projects and solutions [so] you haven’t gotten a full sense of what everyone else has been up to,” said Block. “So this is really a showcase and a celebration of all the work you have done.”

City 2.0 is a public policy course at SHS that focuses on introducing students to a form of problem solving called design thinking, in which the students go through a series of steps to identify and better understand human-centered problems, empathize, and then find a viable solution to fix that problem.

One of the groups presenting on April 30 was “Scarsdale Solar,” a group of five students who focused on solving a solar panel information discrepancy among Scarsdale residents.

“Our whole group went through the [Scarsdale Village] website and looked for information on how to install solar panels and we could not find anything,” said Zarina Levitsky, a student in the group. “So we thought, if a busy house owner wants to install solar panels, there is so much research to find and maybe that is one of the reasons people are so afraid and not willing to take steps.”

The group of students decided to release a survey to the public in order to gather data about how Scarsdale residents felt about solar panel installation. After posting their survey on multiple community-focused social media groups, the students found that 65 percent of respondents thought about installing solar panels, but 60 percent of respondents didn’t know how to or where to start.

“We heard back from Scarsdale parents who said they were interested in installing solar panels, but were very unaware about the process of installation and how much it costs and all the details that go along with it,” said SHS senior Drew Kass. “We collaborated and zoned in on improving the attitude toward climate change and making it more accessible for people to learn how to go about the process, so that’s why we came about the website.”

The group decided to create a website that would act as a resource for Scarsdale residents interested in installing solar panels on their home. The website, called “Scarsdale Solar,” outlines everything residents need to know about solar panels. From the process and installation, to companies and pricing, the website even contains stories from homeowners who have successfully installed solar panels on their homes.

“We got feedback throughout and we tried to implement [that feedback],” said Levitsky. “If anyone has feedback for us, we’ll be more than willing to change it up and put it out there.”

The students were originally inspired to tackle the information discrepancies regarding solar panels in Scarsdale when Michelle Sterling, a member of the board of trustees’ Conservation Advisory Council, went to meet with the class regarding solar and sustainable technologies. Sterling helped mentor the students and inform them about solar panels and their use in the community.

“Usually in school you don’t really get to choose what you learn and this [project] was kind of nice because if it’s something you’re interested in then you’re more motivated to research it,” SHS senior Madeline Bonanno said about the class.

The website’s information was sourced from homeowners who currently have solar panels on their homes. With that information, the students in the group were able to consolidate information, such as popular and commonly used companies that install solar panels.

“We didn’t hear directly back from solar panel companies, but we listed companies [residents] have used,” said Kass, which makes it “very easy to get to the place you need to be through the website.”

For next steps, the students are hoping to get their website linked to the village website under a solar panels category, as a way to inform Scarsdale residents and spread sustainable mindsets across the village.

“Raise your hand if your parents have ever expressed interest in solar panels,” said Block to her class at the end of the group’s presentation. A majority of the student’s hands went up.

“If renewable energy is something you support and think is beneficial to our planet and should be incorporated more into our lifestyle of sustainability, then I would have that conversation with your parents,” Block told the class. “Certainly this resource could be helpful to anyone in the community who is interested in at least toying with the idea of figuring out what to do with solar panels.”

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