HEIDELBERG, Germany -- Heidelberg Middle School seventh graders got the chance to get up close and personal with solar panels April 14-15.

The students visited the Stadtwerke Walldorf solar park in Walldorf, a 40,000 square-meter field filled with solar panels.

Kina Stallings, a science teacher at HMS, helped organize the tour with Tim Clark of the U.S. Army Garrison Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg Environmental Division. Stallings, along with Directorate of Public Works representatives, escorted nearly 40 students over two days to the solar field in celebration of Earth Week, centered around Earth Day, which was celebrated around the world Wednesday.

"I want them to go back to the states with the knowledge that there's this stuff out there," Stallings said. "And many of them, they drive by it every day and they don't know what it is, so that's why I wanted to come here. They're excited."

The students' tours were led by Norbert Hirt, a Stadtwerke Walldorf engineer. Hirt spent nearly an hour and a half talking to the students and answering questions ranging from "how does the solar panel turn it into electricity'" to "what degree do you have'" and "will solar panels wear out over time'"

"I think it is very important to raise the energy questions overall, everywhere in the world," Hirt said. "And right now since you've got a new president, it's even more important to put the seed in everybody - we need renewable energy instead of nuclear power or coal power. It's safer. It's better for the environment, and we need more awareness of how to prevent energy consumption. Energy you don't consume, you don't have to use, so that's the first step."

Twelve-year-old Daniel Crusan was one of the students on the April 15 field trip. He said his neighbor has a solar panel in his backyard, so while the idea of solar panels is not new to him, "it's really cool to actually be around all the solar panels and learn more about them."

"I like it, it's cool," he said. "It's better than having all that gas and pollution, because I used to live in New York where there used to be horrible pollution. But it smells fresher out here and it's really good."

In the Stadtwerke Walldorf solar park, there are 14,000 individual solar panels, Hirt said, each one with a value of around Ac'A!250. The solar park itself is less than a year old, took three months to plan and around four months to build.

"Our ideal angle for this spot is around 30 degrees to the sun so the overall energy production will be as high as possible for this spot," Hirt explained to the students during the tour.

He also told the students how the solar panels are connected to houses by cables, and Stadtwerke Walldorf is connected to the national grid, therefore the electrons, in a few seconds, could go wherever they are needed. "That is the point of having a grid and connect to other power plants."

For student Eric Ferraro, 12, the field trip was okay, but he admits he did learn the value of the solar park.

"I know that we can find a better source of electricity rather than just using oil and fossil fuels," he said.

"I know we are not able to switch like in a year to this, but we have to have a goal, and, therefore, it is so important that we show our facilities to kids so they will get an impression and that they know there is something else than big coal plants or big nuclear power plants," Hirt said.

(Editor's Note: Kristen Marquez writes for the USAG Baden-WAfA1/4rttemberg newspaper, the Herald Post.)