By Daniel Schemer, February 2009
The chance of UMass Dartmouth becoming significantly dependent on solar power is highly unlikely, but the possibility of it harnessed could mean considerable decreases in energy usage and costs. In the past, campus interest in solar power has appeared through involvement with the Solar Decathlon competition and the use of solar panels to heat the athletic swimming pool. This renewable energy could be turned to for percentages of water treatment, heating, and cooking on campus if controlled properly.
A senior design project is in progress to determine the feasibility of solar power on campus. “We will be gathering raw data and compiling it for comprehensive reports to spread awareness of the possibility of solar power on campus,” said Harrison Kitchen, a senior in Computer Engineering, whose team of five is designing and constructing a rooftop solar panel-like device with accompanying software to record daily measurements of sunlight intensity.
The software for this remote device is being designed from scratch. Exterior circuitry and connector software will record solar amounts, and possibly temperature and direction, and transmit the data off the site using radio waves. A database utilizing spreadsheet format will be used to record all information. It is also the wish of the team to have an actual mini-solar panel on top of the device to power it and use fewer batteries. This will mark the first extensive and, hopefully, conclusive study into solar feasibility with the prospects that findings will tell us how much solar power could be utilized for campus management.
Though the finished product won’t be installed until the end of the spring semester, the data being accumulated between now and then will allow others to move forward with the essentially year-long study, which is necessary for reporting substantial results. Assuming its success down the line, it is also a goal of the report to attract state interest for funding solar power or more research on campus.
“We’ll never completely replace our energy resources. Solar power is too expensive for the whole campus. It would have to be some form of hybrid system,” said Mr. Kitchen, who added that a main concern is also determining the economic implications. The technical plausibility of solar energy for UMass Dartmouth has to meet payback investment requirements so that budgetary restraints and capital loss don’t become issues.
An example of recognizing this financial standpoint would be comparing the total available watts per meter squared for the campus, as predicted, with the actual amounts recorded by the device. This assessment could be used to present payback figures. “A big part of any alternative energy project is investment up front with returns down the road.”
Preliminary research began last semester when the Office of Campus and Community Sustainability put in a request to the Senior Design program for a solar feasibility project. Mr. Kitchen’s team took on the proposal after their initial project idea folded. “We’re all interested in alternative energy and sustainability from an engineering side,” said Mr. Kitchen, who was heavily drawn to the design and technological aspects of developing the system.
The construction of the device and software will be completed for the class’s final presentation. Though the senior Design team will have graduated by the time conclusive data is yielded from the study, Harrison Kitchen is optimistic what the results could mean for the campus. “Embracing any kind of renewable energy will be worthwhile because, going forward, we need to make that shift. At the same time, it needs to make fiscal sense, which is part of what this project is about.”