Platte River Power Authority’s NoCo Time Trials concluded May 13 with a virtual awards ceremony crowning three middle school teams’ solar and battery car race champions.
Following a successful debut of the competition in 2019, Platte River was forced to cancel the race in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Platte River nevertheless provided grant money to teachers who planned to participate in the 2020 NoCo Time Trials to fund STEM programs for their students. Organizers decentralized the 2021 competition, adding virtual elements, to maintain health protocols.
“It was a tough decision to cancel the event last year,” said Steve Roalstad, communications and marketing manager for Platte River and initiator of the event, “but we couldn’t let the kids down so we came up with the virtual format to keep the momentum going.”
The 2021 competition enabled teachers to safely conduct individual races with their students using solar and battery car kits and racetracks provided by Platte River. Students were given one month to build their cars, race them and submit race times to Platte River to determine winners.
A total of 10 middle schools and 85 teams participated in this year’s NoCo Time Trials, competing to build and race the fastest and best-designed cars. The following winners were announced during the virtual ceremony and received commemorative awards: Fastest solar car: Team 1, Sunset Middle School, Longmont. Fastest battery car: Weebs, High Plains School K-8, Loveland. Lastly, Best design: G.O.A.T goals, Webber Middle School, Fort Collins.
“This is one of the best projects I have done with students,” said Sunset Middle School teacher and coach, Krista Chiaravelle. “As a design teacher, I appreciate the experimental approach and the engagement.”
“This year probably meant more to our kids than any other year,” said Kathleen Kingdom, dean of instruction for Colorado Early Colleges Fort Collins West Middle School. “The parents were so excited that [their kids] got to do something hands-on and be able to get involved with this activity. From top to bottom, it was a huge inspiration to everybody at our school.”
“The staff and everyone in the building even said the school sounded like what we’re used to the learning and the excitement and the fun,” said Lindy Jones, instructional coach and STEAM coach for High Plains School PK-8 in Loveland. “It brought some of [the fun] back that hasn’t been able to happen because of all the restrictions.”
The NoCo Time Trials gave students an opportunity to work together in teams, gain experience with hands-on problem solving, and interact with the same solar and battery technology used by Platte River for electricity generation. Alyssa Clemsen Roberts, chief strategy officer for Platte River, hopes the event will encourage students to pursue higher education and careers in STEM.
“We know it is really hard to attract people into the STEM field. If we can get them young, we can convince them that this is an exciting path to pursue,” she told teachers during the award ceremony. “As our industry continues to rapidly transform toward a non-carbon energy future, we’re going to need a really skilled workforce to help us reach our goals.”
Some schools had so much fun building cars that they innovated new car designs and tested adding new technology. Team Monkey Men from Boltz Middle School in Fort Collins used a 3D printer in their battery car design.
“We are actually doing an extension with the cars [by] adding multiple motors, hybrid solar/battery power…I even [had] a group [add] propellers,” said Matt Smith, 7th-grade science communication teacher for Walt Clark Middle School in Loveland. “It has been really cool to see what [students] are coming up with.”
“As a result of [the NoCo Time Trials], we’re going to offer an engineering design process class to 7th and 8th graders next year for two periods a week,” said Marianne Aiken, a science teacher at St. Joseph Catholic Middle School in Fort Collins.
Platte River began the NoCo Time Trials to encourage more students from northern Colorado to participate in the National Renewable Energy Lab’s (NREL) statewide Middle School Car Competition, a long-running solar and battery car race. Thirty-five teams from seven middle schools in Platte River’s owner communities of Fort Collins, Longmont, and Loveland participated in the inaugural 2019 NoCo Time Trials event, with several teams advancing to NREL’s state tournament and two teams bringing home trophies. Though NREL’s state tournament was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, Platte River staff look forward to resuming both in-person events in 2022.
“I’d love to see more kids from our owner communities compete at the state level,” said Roalstad.”
Platte River Power Authority is a not-for-profit, community-owned public power utility that generates and delivers safe, reliable, environmentally responsible, and financially sustainable energy and services to its owner communities of Estes Park, Fort Collins, Longmont, and Loveland, Colo., for delivery to their utility customers. For more information, visit prpa.org.