Taking a Shine to Solar Energy Engineering

September 19, 2014

Solar energy is all about electricity, so it was no surprise to see the surge of interest from electrical engineering students when a first-of-its-kind course in solar roof installation was offered last spring.

Electrical engineering majors made up more than half of the multidisciplinary group of 41 engineering and agriculture students who designed and installed a grid-tie solar-electric system on the Cal Poly BioResource and Agricultural Engineering (BRAE) Building as part of a new BRAE class, Solar Photovoltaic Systems.

As part of the 10-week course, the students completed all aspects of a typical residential solar installation, including site planning, electrical and mechanical design, regulatory approval and permit processes, government and utility incentives and financial return-on-investment analysis, said Professor Art MacCarley, an electrical engineering professor on loan to BRAE as the department interim chair.

Electrical engineering students included undergraduates Sarah Ashe, Jonathan Bonello, Matthew Ducasse, Caleb Fink, Simon Hauser, Rang Hoang, Robin Hubilla, Eugene Kropp, Timothy Lin, Stephen Marrone, Colin Mitchell, Andrew Moradpour, Jonathan Peterson, Daniel Pico, Austin Rivera, Moses Salazar, Casey Smith, Scott Vollmer and Woo Yang; and graduate students Karthik Baskaran, Gregorio Franco, Reginald Hodges and Diego Jimenez.

“It’s the first student-designed and student-built project of its type to become part of the campus infrastructure,” said MacCarley.

The course enables students to develop practical and theoretical skills that meet the demands of the fast-growing solar industry, and consistent with the energy and environmental needs of the nation and campus sustainability objectives.

In addition to the campus installation, the students also completed two other solar installations on low-income houses in collaboration with Grid Alternatives, a nonprofit solar service company.

MacCarley created the service-learning class after SunPower donated more than 1,000 solar panels to the university.

The project will result in an estimated electric power savings of $1,600 per year for the campus, replacing utility-generated energy with energy from the sun.

And it’s just the beginning. “We have four other solar projects lined up,” said MacCarley.


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