August 28, 2013
Senior capstone students from ASU’s College of Technology and Innovation worked on an applied alternative energy project that was proposed for use at ASU. Kevin Shafer, Director of Facilities Management, provided testing space for the project, and the campus community garden served as the case study. TUV Rheinland proved to be a valuable community partner as it sponsored the photovoltaic module needed for the project. The students designed an outdoor structure that could house irrigation equipment and lights that were completely off the grid. The advantage of such an “off the grid power system” is that it contributes to ASU’s carbon neutrality and alternative energy goals because it eliminates the need for conventional electric for the remote sites around all campuses (i.e. landscape installations, court yards, bus stops, gardens, etc.).
The primary goal of this alternative energy project was to identify if ASU can reduce its dependency on conventional electric energy that is currently used to lighten the remote areas of the campus. The class carried out pilot studies in 4 modules of the project: (1) Research photovoltaic electrical systems (including batteries for energy storage). (2) Sustainable materials to build the structure that would physically support the panel and house the electrical components and battery. (3) Acquisition of said materials included filling out grant paper work for the donation of the PV panel. (4) Construction of a scaled down model of the project and then an actual prototype of the PV system.
The project successfully obtained several solar panels through a grant process sponsored by TUV Rheinland and built a prototype of a solar-powered system that ran an irrigation system and powered a light. The class also created a 3D model of what the finished product could look like. It featured sustainable materials such as reused tires and backfill for the bulk of a cement bench and colorful glass bottles cut to form a mortared wall for the bench. This unit also served to disguise the battery that the panel hooked up to.
Representatives for ASU Parking and Transit visited the prototype and viewed the student’s formal presentation of their project. Afterwards the students fielded questions from university stakeholders. Instead of powering timed-irrigation systems, as their prototype does, the unit could easily be adapted to provide lighting at night and a charging station for laptops or cell phones. This could be an attractive alternative energy feature for ASU bus and shuttle stops.
More research and design work is needed if this remote solar powered system is to be adopted and implemented by ASU or any other entity interested in remote power. To successfully integrate the visual aspects of the project with the civil and electrical engineering, a future project would also increase the interaction between the students and the University Architect.