Portable Lab Provides Hands-on Education in Solar Electric Power

Sept. 14, 2005

Kathleen McPartland
Greg Kallio, Mechanical Engineering

Portable Lab Provides Hands-on Education in Solar Electric Power

Mechanical engineering students are getting hands-on experience with solar electric power technology, thanks to a new portable photovoltaic power system lab. The lab is the brainchild of Professor Greg Kallio, chair of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronic Engineering and Manufacturing Technology, and other faculty and students who saw the need for improved educational opportunities in renewable energy.

The Photovoltaic (PV) Power System Lab is in line with the University’s movement toward becoming a “green” campus and increasing awareness of environmental issues and its commitment to sustainability.

The lab is a stand-alone solar electric laboratory mounted on a portable wheeled cart. The cart contains all the equipment normally used for a remote residential installation: a PV module, batteries, inverter and charge controller. The system is wired with proper grounding, disconnects, breakers and receptacles for AC loads.

The cart is designed around a single-axis sun tracking system, known as a “tilt-and-roll” type, where the seasonal “tilt” is manually adjusted and a geared stepper motor produces the daily “roll.” The cart also houses a data acquisition panel where solar irradiation, PV voltage, PV current, battery condition, module temperature, battery temperature and ambient temperature are displayed and available for computer data logging.

The PV Power System Lab is one of six laboratory experiments that students perform in the senior-level Energy Systems course, MECH 432. Students learn about the function of the essential components of a PV system and are able to measure the effects of solar irradiation, tracking, temperature and loads on the performance of the system.

The lab will also be used as a solar energy demonstrator to educate general audiences on campus, in the community and at K-12 outreach events. Being self-contained and portable, it can be transported to various venues and operated from its own generated power.

Professor Kallio will be demonstrating the PV Power System Lab to senior-level students in a class on energy systems on Sept. 15. Visitors who would like to see the system are welcome. Student groups will actually be running tests on Sept. 21 and 22. The times are listed below.
Thursday, Sept. 15, 10:30-11:30 am (group demonstration only)
Wednesday, Sept. 21, 9-11:50 am (full lab)
Thursday, Sept. 22, 9-11:50 am (full lab)
The project was a team effort involving students, faculty and technical staff. The lab was designed and constructed by engineering students Shawn Molina, Charissa Garcia and Maurissa Pence, under the supervision of Kallio; electronics technician Steve Eckart did the wiring, with the help of graduate student Bret Bosma.

Funding for the project originated from a CELT grant, with generous donations from Mark Bettis of RWE Schott Solar, Norm Nielson of Chico Electric, Dr. Jeff Thomas, and Gary Speer of Metal Works.


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