Installation auditions solar panels

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Photo by Kathryn Crandall.

The five new solar panels on Kline Geology Laboratory may not be harvesting energy, but they could help reduce Yale’s energy bill.

On Friday, the members of Project Bright, an undergraduate organization dedicated to increasing the presence of solar power at Yale, began installing five solar panels on the roof of Kline Geology Laboratory (KGL) on Science Hill. The test installation features a solar panel from each of the five major types commercially available, allowing Project Bright to determine the panel most suited for the New Haven environment. The data can be presented to the Yale Office of Sustainability to inform their future solar initiatives, said the founder of Project Bright, Maddy Yozwiak ’14.

“There aren’t many other installations like this, which take the currently available technology and compare predicted performance with what happens on the ground,” Yozwiak said. “A lot of panel manufacturers release that information and it’s just taken for granted.”

In 2011, Yozwiak proposed a student-led solar panel installation and received a three-year loan from the Yale Office of Sustainability intended to fund student projects that could decrease Yale’s electricity usage.

The original plan for the project called for the expansion of a currently existing solar installation on the roof of Swing Space. When this ultimately proved to be unfeasible, the team refined their plan to switch from a large energy-harvesting system to a smaller one that does not gather power, and only tests various solar panels. With the change of plans, Project Bright was no longer able to use the original loan, and instead received a grant from the the Yale Office of Sustainability, with additional support coming from the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, the Department of Geology and Geophysics and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, Yozwiak said.

After scanning aerial maps of campus, the team chose KGL as the site of the installationfor safety reasons: Its flat, fenced-in roof was designed for geology students to carry out weather testing. The roof was already home to one solar panel, used to power weather instruments, and some pre-existing scaffolding. An installation this size would be sufficient to power a house, but not a large laboratory building like KGL said Sam Kaufman-Martin ’15, installations and assessments leader for Project Bright.

Trained students carried out the majority of the preparation and installation. The scaffolding to support the panels and the electrical wiring were designed by students, although it was challenging due to the lack of members with electrical experience, said Julia Zhuang ’17, a member of Project Bright involved in the technical aspects of the installation. Advisors from Yale supplemented the students’ training, including Kevin Ryan and Glenn Weston-Murphy, research support specialists at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering, respectively.

Initial planning and design were carried out during the fall term, parts were ordered before spring break and the installation began on Friday. The turnout for this culminating moment was impressive, said Tess Maggio ’16, co-president of Project Bright.

“It was a really exciting moment when we screwed in the first piece,” Zhuang said. “It’s the product of all our work.”

The installation is targeted to be finished by the end of the semester, so that data collection can begin over the summer and continue through the next academic year, Maggio said. The panels will also be accessible to classes as an educational resource.

“Because it’s so safe and accessible, it’s an incredible learning tool for people to go up and visualize how solar energy works,” Yozwiak said.

Project Bright was founded in 2011.

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