The utility has been issuing these grants since 2009, said Maureen Wilt, education program director for FPL.
“We started the program at the same time the company was bringing on three solar projects in the state – two PV projects and one solar thermal.”
As FPL became more invested in solar installations, the utility wanted to educate consumers about how solar worked into the company’s portfolio.
“And we realized we had an opportunity to extend our outreach into the schools,” Wilt said.
The utility has given out between $43,000 and $50,000 every years since the program started, but the grant application process has become more competitive as more teachers are trying for the money.
“The applications have definitely gotten better,” Wilt said.
And Florida teachers are doing creative things with their students.
The grants go to teachers who want to do any kind of renewable energy project with their students in any grade from elementary to high school. They get between $500 and $2,500 per project. Some are obviously more elaborate than others.
“Some are fairly simple with teachers helping kids build solar ovens,” Wilt said. One year a class built miniature solar houses with little wind turbines. This year, we have a high school class that’s going to convert a golf cart into a solar golf cart.”
That high school class made a compelling pitch, Wilt said. The students are talking about creating an ongoing business converting golf carts to solar power for area residents if the pilot project is a success.
Beyond introducing students to solar and renewable energy, Wilt said the FPL's foundation is hoping the grants will engage students in science. And she knows of a few cases where the projects have done that.
One group of middle school students from Charlotte County took their solar ovens and solar remote-control cars to a state competition and did very well.
They’re in high school now and go back to tell their science teacher they’re more interested in engineering and science because of the solar project.
“Our company is very innovative,” Wilt said. “I would really love to see some these local students come back and join our company down the road. I think that would really bring it together.”