A photovoltaic solar panel system was recently installed on the roof of Resnick Engineering Hall to be used as both an educational resource and an energy-generating alternative.
“[We] put together a proposal that incorporated solar panels on the roof that courses in engineering and general education (GE) courses use,” Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Mike Otis said.
Funding for the project came through a $60,000 grant secured by state Sen. John Bonacic through New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA). Otis said students will be able to physically access the panels on the roof and also monitor the data through a website or Internet-enabled mobile device. There are currently 24 panels with a plan to place an additional 18.
Otis said the design for the panels was a collaboration between himself, engineering alumna Courtney Lin and volunteers. He said they also collaborated with a solar installation company called SunWize Technologies based in Kingston.
Otis said some of the problems that exist with this type of system is that energy absorption isn’t continuous. On cloudy days and during the night, the amount generated is low. He said that for solar systems, they aren’t Stand-Alone, and for the one on the engineering hall specifically it feeds back into the Central Hudson Gas & Electric Company.
“Some people use battery systems, but the lifetime of batteries don’t last forever,” Otis said. “[They’re] falling out of favor. [They’re popular with] Stand-Alone cabins in the woods or in third world infrastructure.”
Otis said on a clear, sunny day the panels can generate 1,000 watts as opposed to a cloudy day where they can generate 200 to 300 watts. He said that’s a difference of “1/5” and the “electronics would compensate for that.”
Interim Dean of the School of Science and Engineering Dan Freedman said the idea to place the panels was “going around for years.” He said this system gives students a chance to utilize converters, from direct current (DC) to alternating current (AC).
The system, for optimal efficiency, must be placed at a 40 to 45 degree angle. The panels on top of the engineering hall are at a 20 to 25 degree angle, according to Freedman. There is a fear, since they are not bolted down, they could pick up wind and fly off the roof if they were situated any higher. Freedman also explained, since the system is on a flat roof, the option to bolt them was discouraged as a flat design has the potential to leak if pierced into.
Still, Freedman said if a situation like Hurricane Irene should happen again, it wouldn’t affect the solar panels because a 4 foot protective barrier exists around the Resnick roof.
The unique angle effects the energy output. According to an analytics website operated by the engineering department, the 24 panels have the potential to generate 8 kilowatts. The same website revealed that on Tuesday, March 6, a generally clear, sunny day, the system generated 3 kilowatts. Freedman said it has the potential to peak at 4 or 5. When the additional 18 are placed, the number will jump from 8 to 16 kilowatt potential.
Freedman said that the 8 kilowatts represents enough energy to power 80, 100 watt fluorescent lightbulbs. To explain it even further, he said 4 kilowatts can provide a residential house with between 70 and 80 percent of its energy usage. However, he said residential areas usually have slanted roofs which are better situated for operating solar panels.
The kilowatt potential “is entirely based on space,” Freedman said.
Students within the School of Science and Engineering had a positive response to the photovoltaic system and thought it would offer them useful and relevant experience.
Fourth-year electrical engineering major Julian de la Rua said the system will provide him with relevant data that he can compare to a current project he is working on.
“I’m doing a senior engineering design that includes solar panels and having some right in our building allows me to make several tests that weren’t possible before,” he said. “In addition, the department offers a GE course on renewable energy that covers solar power thoroughly and will now have the chance of showing a working installation to its students.”
The renewable energy GE course will be taught by Otis. Fourth-year computer engineering major Robert Fogel, president of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers at New Paltz and vice president of Eta Kappa Nu (electrical and computer engineering honor society chapter), said gaining experience with a tangible system will give students an edge.
“Getting experience with solar panels that are actually hooked up to the system will give students a great edge over others who have only done work in a lab with a smaller and likely less powerful solar panel,” he said.
The switch to a “renewable, safe and healthier energy source” is ideal and the system of solar panels is a great start, according to Fogel.
Meanwhile, Otis said if anything should go wrong with the panels, in terms of their technology, that they are “very easy to fix.” He said that they are also easily accessible and it would be obvious if something was broken because there’s a “web-based maintaining system.”
The actual installation of the panels went quickly, but connecting the system took time as those qualified were volunteers between paying gigs, according to Freedman. There were about three signoffs required to build and connect the system from members of Central Hudson, a structural team and solar installers.
The system has a 25-year lifetime expectancy, and the payback is expected between the 10- and 15-year mark, in part to New York state incentives. Freedman said overall, the system will generate $1,000 a year in electricity and will offset a coal burning plant that releases 6,000 kilograms of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere.
The Athletic and Wellness Center currently has a solar panel system on its roof but it is much larger than the one on Resnick.
“It’s absolutely critical to move to alternative energy, both for obvious and compelling reasons,” Freedman said. “[We’re] going to run out of hydrocarbons, the supply is not inexhaustible.”