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Kids Invent Cool Pool Energy Source

by Eric Herman April 23, 2012 15:05 PM

Eric HermanFor those of you who believe, as I do, that solutions to big problems reside in our younger generations, you’re going to love this story! 

A group of high school students in San Jose, Calif., recently unveiled a design for an inventive application of thermoelectric technology in which swimming pools can be used to generate electrical power using heat energy from the sun. 

The concept centers on thermoelectric panels capable of harnessing the temperature difference between a hot surface and cold water. “As this device floats on water, reflector panels focus sunlight onto a black surface that converts the solar energy to heat,” explained Anthony Silk, a math teacher and adviser to the Harker School team in San Jose, Calif. “This heat is then passed through thermoelectric panels and passively dissipated into the surrounding water.”

The students believe that this approach could do much more than just power household appliances, but that massive floating farms of the devices could someday generate enough electricity for towns and cities. They shared the concept March 23rd, while participating in the Open Minds exhibition held by the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance in San Francisco. They were one of 14 such teams receiving invitations from the NCIIA and Lemelson-MIT Program.

Comprised of sophomores, juniors and seniors, the team sees thermoelectric devices as a way of tapping into “the graveyard” of energy that usually ends up wasted. According to a report in Innovation News Daily, the students are currently refining their concept and are set to display the system in June at EurekaFest held at MIT. The team has a $9,110 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program’s InvenTeam initiative, and is being sponsored by Lenyard Food Service for the trip to EurekaFest.

I share this with you not only because it’s an inventive potential energy solution involving swimming pools, but also to highlight the type of creative problem solving that will ultimately be used to meet future energy demands. There’s little doubt that our society is going to need this type of bold thinking in order to thrive as the global energy markets tighten. And, this is exactly the type of activity that is going to foster tomorrow’s greatest inventions. 

Whether or not this particular concept ends up finding its way into real-world applications, I can’t help but applaud the students’ efforts and the wisdom shown by educators in making this kind of program available to them. 

There is also the practical point that they might really be on to something. After all, bodies of water do absorb a tremendous amount of solar energy and finding a way to use that otherwise wasted energy might just have a great deal of merit. 

You never know until you try!

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