Parker Stewart, a 16-year-old junior pictured here at Sayre School, used his independent study to research using solar power at his school in order to reduce its carbon footprint. The installation of 30 solar panels is scheduled for late November.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Sayre School junior Parker Stewart knew last year that he wanted his independent study on the environment to have a broad impact on the community.

Parker, 16, wanted his private downtown Lexington school to “reduce its carbon footprint.”

Parker’s goal to produce enough solar energy to power the school’s science labs is coming to fruition. The installation of 30 solar panels is scheduled for late November.

“I knew from our class that renewable energy was an important topic, and solar seemed like the easiest and most practical natural resource for me to think about,” said Parker.

As he began his research on solar, he found a Google app that allowed him to plug in an address and find out how much sunlight the property receives each day.

“Sayre’s Upper School building was the ideal location in terms of the amount of daily sunlight it receives,” he said.

Parker met with his Advanced Placement Environmental Science teacher, Debbie Wheeler, and presented his idea of having a solar panel installed on the Upper School’s flat roof. She recommended that he perform an energy audit of the science lab to see how much energy a typical lab uses per day, a news release said.

His research included contacting a local installer of solar panels, Synergy Home, to work on the job. Parker put together a PowerPoint presentation for Sayre’s Head of School Stephen Manella with all the benefits of solar and what it could do for the school and the community.

“To be honest, I thought I would make my presentation to Mr. Manella and he would say ‘Excellent job! However, we can’t really fund a project like that right now,’ “ Parker said. “So, I was thrilled when he said he loved the idea and wanted to support the project.”

After Sayre provided the initial seed money to provide infrastructure and the purchase of one panel, a family at the school wanted to get involved as well. The project now has a total of 30 panels, which are expected to generate enough energy to run all four of the science labs in the Upper School.

“It feels surreal to think that an idea I had stemming from my AP Environmental class would have this kind of impact,” said Parker.

Parker said he received significant help from Wheeler.

And Wheeler said Parker put in a significant amount of time to research the suitability of the Sayre Upper School rooftop for solar panels and even did a cost/benefit analysis to calculate a rate of return.

“I’ve had other students talk about environmental initiatives on campus, but Parker had the persistence and tenacity to make it happen,” she said.

Parker said he would ultimately like to study environmental engineering at Stanford University in California.

Meanwhile, there have been other efforts in Lexington to expand the use of solar power.

In Fayette County Public Schools, Wellington Elementary and Locust Trace AgriScience Center had solar panels when they opened in 2012. At the time Locust Trace had the second largest array of solar panels in North America, said district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall.

And in December 2018, the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council passed a resolution supporting the growth of solar energy in Fayette County and outlined some strategies to expand use of solar.

Lexington Herald-Leader