Research Spotlight: Senior designs solar panel system

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Earlier this week, students likely noticed a portable display of solar energy panels outside the Wold Center.

While these panels likely attracted curiosity, awe, and excitement from an otherwise banal walk, the real purpose of the solar display was for testing its functionality.

Based on the results of the experiment, the applicability of Ian Davies’ ’15 solar energy conversion system to meet its intended objectives was promising, but data was inconclusive due to less than ideal weather conditions.

Davies ’15, who is majoring in Mechanical Engineering, designed the panels as his senior project under the supervision of Professor of Mechanical Engineering Richard D. Wilk.

Davies’ project was funded by the Student Research Grant and the Presidential Green Grant.

The ultimate purpose of this project is to alleviate the impact of extreme weather and natural disasters in an era of human-induced climate change, by shifting energy reliance from fossil fuel to renewables.

Davies therefore aimed to design and test a portable solar energy conversion system that can provide electricity for water purification purposes.

Davies’ conversion system is less energy intensive than traditional methods. He brings into focus the applicability of water pasteurization and ultraviolet light filtration as an effective purification method, comparable to boiling water.

Water pasteurization heats water up to a pasteurization temperature much lower than boiling temperature for a specified time to eliminate biological contaminants, thus resulting in significant energy savings.

Davies’ solar panels are designed to maintain an overall 70 degrees Celsius temperature final water temperature from the initial unpurified water inputted into the system.

According to Davies’ final report obtained by the Concordiensis, his power generation system will consist of several parts—two 100 W photovoltaic panels, four 78-inch evacuated solar thermal collectors, water tank, voltage regulators, power inverters, and batteries that convert solar energy into usable energy able to power small electronic devices.

The two solar panel modules was the centerpiece of the system. The solar panels were critical to provide for system power and backup electricity necessary to power pumps, lights, and other miscellaneous electrical loads.

The portable solar energy conversion system is durable with its ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions, easily transported by pick-up truck, and operable during all times of the day.

Davies’ final product is the culmination of a multi-step construction process that saw plentiful revisions, resulting from multiple setbacks.

It is also the result of extensive experimentation and demonstration testing, which revealed ways to minimize energy inefficiencies resulting from heat loss and maximize insulation.

The first step involved machining project components.

After this step, the solar panels were mounted on the frame and drawer sliders. A larger base frame that will serve as a portable support platform for the equipment is connected by pivot joints to the panels-mounted frame.

The final step consisted of assembling and affixing the electrical equipment onto the base frame, thus completing the final system.

In preparation for testing, Davies’ portable solar energy conversion system underwent a rigorous and holistic examinations that checked for leaks, and ensured that the circuit current and voltage system were properly working.

In the future, Davies’ hopes to expand the applicable realm of his solar energy conversion system by conducting further tests in more stable weather with improvements made to equipment insulation.

The excess solar energy could be brought back into the system’s energy grid with the addition of an electric heater that will aid in water pasteurization during colder conditions.

Along with this addition, improvements in thickness insulation allows the system to be used in below-freezing settings.

Further additions to the system also aim to enhance value, transportability, and user-friendliness.

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