Chuck Denney-Narrator (UT Institute of Agriculture)
Spring means increased exposure to that big glowing star in the sky. Our sun is a mere 93 million miles away, but hey, close enough for these ingenious students.
“If you look in here you can see our data collection devices.”
Warren Edmunds, Mark Newlin and their classmate J.D. White are pursuing degrees in Biosystems Engineering on the UT Ag campus. And this is their senior project - built from scratch - a triangular rooftop draped in solar panels to capture the sun’s rays.
J.D. White (UT Biosystems Engineering Student)
“Solar radiation is a largely unused resource - especially on a day like today you can produce up to a thousand watts per meter squared. So that’s a 1000 watt lightbulb for every three foot by three foot section on a roof.”
Solar radiation is renewable. When we go solar and harvest sunlight, it decreases consumption of fossil fuels. That’s good for the environment and provides an energy source for the future. The panels absorb sunlight and make electricity. But they also get hot. In doing so, the system collects warm air passing beneath the solar panels, which can then be used to heat water or directly heat a house.
“From these measurements we’ve taken, we can determine how much energy from the home we can displace as well.”
The design would allow a homeowner to reduce the amount of energy used from a utility company, lowering their bill. UT Ag Institute professors say this could be the roof on many homes someday soon. It’s sturdy enough that you can walk on it, and it’s inexpensive.
Dr. John Tyner (UT Institute of Agriculture)
“Absolutely. This is not far-fetched. They built this with a $3,000 budget. The lumber was recycled from a previous structure, but everything else they built for $3,000. So it’s a pretty economic way to go. The solar panels just keep getting cheaper and cheaper.”
Come May graduation, these young men will have engineering degrees.
Meantime with senior-itis setting in, they don’t want to be trapped in a classroom all day. Engineers want to build something, and this was their opportunity to show what they could do.
“It’s very different from just going to class. You actually have to apply everything you know to a full project. From taking bits and pieces from every class you’ve had and putting that all together in a functioning project. I definitely learned a lot.”
At press time, these students hadn’t received their final grade on this project. But given that it did win the prestigious campus-wide EUReCA research award, they’re probably feeling pretty confident about an “A.' But the bigger issue here is capturing a natural resource and improving lives through science. The sun is still burning bright, so why not use it?