Students in Dietlikon installing solar panels on the roof of their school

Students hook solar power up to their school

The energy transition is tangible at the secondary school is Dietlikon. With the help of the Myblueplanet climate protection movement, students built a solar power system and collected money for other environmental education projects. More and more schools are getting involved in the "Every Cell Counts" campaign.

Daniel (16) stands on the roof of the Hüenerweid School in the Zurich suburb of Dietlikon and tells us, "We are looking for sponsors to help us make the world a better place." A secondary school student calling for donations instead of cramming for a test in the classroom? Ina and Lia (both 16) explain why in the mechanical systems room in the basement of their school: "We want to install solar panels on the roof of our school and promote renewable energies." They add that they have prepared a presentation for selling solar panels for that purpose. The scenes are documented in a video.

Selling solar panels is part of the "Every Cell Counts" project being carried out by Switzerland's Myblueplanet climate protection movement. With its projects and campaigns, the association wants to encourage environmentally friendly behavior, boost energy efficiency, and promote renewable energies. "Every Cell Counts" equips school buildings with photovoltaic systems to power them with green energy that they generate themselves. The entire student body is involved in the installation, thereby helping to raise awareness of the issue.

Collecting money for the "climate fund"

"Selling" solar panels for the climate protection project is meant purely symbolically and works through crowdfunding. Given a specific deadline, Ina, Lia, Daniel, and their fellow students needed to find sponsors who were willing to pay 40 Swiss francs per panel for a total of 400 symbolic panels. "At first, the students took a casual approach with an attitude of 'It'll work out,' remembers the school's principal, Reto Valsecchi. "But they soon noticed how difficult it could be to win business owners over to their cause." Nevertheless, the "traveling salespeople" came up with some good ideas to promote the energy transition. They used tablets as a modern method of presentation. One student posted the company's logo on Instagram, where his several hundred followers could see it. Their crowdfunding was successful, not least of all thanks to many other marketing efforts using the slogan "Sunneklar – Hüeni goes Solar!" ("As clear as daylight, Hüenerweid School is going solar!"). The school ran a booth at the Christmas market, handed out flyers, hung up posters, wrote articles for the local newspaper, and organized a sponsorship run. One of the biggest collectors of donations was Lisa (15): "I worked really hard because I knew it was for a good cause," she says, looking back. It took a lot of courage to approach possible donors. "Some were not very receptive. However, we did convince most of them to support our ideas."

I worked really hard because I knew it was for a good cause.

The solar energy system in Dietlikon belongs to a private company, from which the school buys back the electricity produced by it. Thus, the money they collected was not used to pay for the solar energy plant, which went online before summer vacation in 2018 and effectively consists of just under 200 panels. Instead, the amount of 16,000 Swiss francs serves as the school's "climate fund." It will be used to finance educational projects over the next several years. Dietlikon Secondary School wants to establish a Climate Council, which, according to Reto Valsecchi, "is meant to serve as the conscience of successive generations as well as stand for sustainable development and consideration for natural resources." The Council will be made up of students, teachers, and the school's custodian. Lisa is already pleased to be involved.

Construction workers on a solar mission

The student body was also involved in the construction of the photovoltaic system. During a "building site day" in May, the teenagers were allowed to get their hands dirty, contributing to the fact that, today, the panels supply roughly 40 percent of the power consumed by the Dietlikon school. "I am interested in the subject of renewable energies because it's about the future – that includes my future," said Marco on the construction site. "I want to know how the solar panels work and how energy is produced from the sun's rays." Ina was also excited to take part. "I think it's a totally awesome project, and it's neat that we get to help out with installing the solar panels. I believe that knowing about renewable energies will be beneficial to me in the future, as well. And it's fun to build something together; it demands teamwork, too."

I am interested in the subject of renewable energies because it's about the future – that includes my future.

Teachers want something to get excited about, too

Angela Serratore from Myblueplant is in charge of the "Every Cell Counts" campaign. As the project manager, she has her hands full. More and more schools from more and more cantons want to get involved. She and her small team work closely with the schools – from planning and issuing a request for proposals for the solar energy system to the crowdfunding campaign to the teacher training program. According to her, the first year takes the most time and effort, but the subsequent years are also not to be underestimated. The aim is to supply teachers with suitable educational materials and get them excited about projects that provide an experience, as well as demonstrate practical applications. The Canton of Zurich's new Curriculum 21 prescribes interdisciplinary subjects under the umbrella theme of sustainable development, which includes the natural environment and resources.

It is no coincidence that Dietlikon is taking part in the "Every Cell Counts" campaign. "As a school, we have a long history and years of experience with environment-related projects," says Reto Valsecchi. He notes that, when the school started the Myblueplanet project, the geography teachers were the ones who became the most enthusiastic right away. In May, one teacher told the Zürcher Unterländer newspaper, "Now these young people can be hands-on using real objects, do something tangible, and make an active contribution, instead of just listening to theoretical lectures." She added, "We want to start a fire in them that burns into the future. We'll be glad if the only thing we accomplish is that they don't leave their cell phones plugged into the socket on a permanent basis, but really just to charge them." Student Lisa has definitely felt the fire of "Every Cell Counts" saying, "I would get involved in another project again anytime if it's good for the environment."