Scotia-Glenville High School students apparently are not fans of nuclear power, but those chaps in England are.
The American students ranked nuclear power last out of six alternative energy sources the country should explore, while students from Oaks Park High School outside London ranked it No. 1.
Students from two of Rick Warren’s 12th-grade English classes participated Tuesday in a 90-minute discussion with the English students via video conference over the Internet. The event was part of the annual Cross Atlantic Alternative Energy Debate involving high school students worldwide.
Students worked in small groups to research one of six alternative energy sources — nuclear, biomass, solar, wind, tidal and geothermal — then made brief presentations on each to their peers across the Atlantic in teacher Mina Patel’s science class.
England is five hours ahead of the United States, so the British students stayed after school to finish the debate.
Wind was the top energy source favored by U.S. students. Everett Ackerman, 18, said technology has made wind power very efficient.
“Sensors monitor wind speed and direction to adjust the position of turbines,” he said.
Wind energy costs about 5 cents per kilowatt hour to produce, it is a renewable energy source and does not produce greenhouse gas, according to Ackerman.
The disadvantage is that the equipment can be damaged in thunderstorms and can kill birds that fly into them. Large turbines can also be noisy and interfere with television reception, and the power generation can be somewhat sporadic.
“The strength of the wind is not always constant, so it doesn’t produce the same amount of electricity all the time,” he said.
Henry Pacheco, 17, also made the case for wind, saying New York has favorable geography for it.
“We have a lot of wind potential here. We might as well seize it while we can,” he said.
Solar was ranked second by the American students, who reported that advancements in solar technology have resulted in photovoltaic panels that are one-tenth the thickness of previous versions. However, only about 0.01 percent of the United States’ energy is produced through solar power. The students pointed out that New York is one of the fastest growing states for solar power, thanks to tax credits and incentives the state has introduced. The downside of solar is that initial installation costs can be high.
Biomass, which consists of burning wood waste and other organic material, was ranked third by the Scotia-Glenville students.
Fourth was geothermal energy. The American students liked geothermal because the heat from the Earth is virtually limitless and there is no waste produced. The disadvantage is that geothermal energy also has a high startup cost.
Tidal energy was another alternative energy source explored, but both groups of students believed it had huge challenges to being viable. A vast amount of infrastructure would have to be installed along the coast to generate the power. Also, the British students pointed out that the power could only be generated when the tides are flowing — about 10 hours per day.
Coming in last for the American students was nuclear power. The British students ranked nuclear power first, however, followed by biomass, wind, solar, tidal and geothermal power.
They pointed out that there is an abundant supply of uranium, which is used in creating nuclear power. Only a small amount of uranium is needed. Also, they contended that nuclear plants are much safer and less likely to have accidents than fossil fuel industries.
The English students believed the other sources of energy weren’t as reliable and could not produce the required amount of electricity the country needs. One British student pointed out it would take about 15,000 wind turbines to produce as much energy as one nuclear power plant.
Neither side convinced the other to change its top choice of alternative energy, but the students said they enjoyed the experience.
“It’s pretty cool. I like that we get to interact with other students,” said 17-year-old Scotia-Glenville senior Morgan Fonda.
There were a few hiccups during the debate. The school’s Internet connection was repeatedly dropped because of a software glitch, requiring Warren to make the call again to re-establish the link.
Pacheco said he was impressed by how well-prepared the British students were.
“I think it was a good experience to hear opinions from people that we don’t normally associate with,” he said.
Ackerman said he thought the British students were more prepared than their American counterparts.
“I like how they stayed after their school day ended just to talk with us. And they were very polite,” Ackerman said.
Warren hopes to next make these video chats a weekly occurrence on current topics.