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UMBC takes advantage of solar energy

Solar-powered tables have been installed in front of The Commons, Harbor Hall and the RAC. Students can now use these tables to charge their electronics using this renewable energy source.

The “Solar-Power Doks” were installed by EnerFusion Inc., a company located in Lansing, Michigan. Three 55 watt solar panels and one 100 watt solar panel are used in order to convert sunlight into energy, which is then stored within a battery at the base of the table. Students can plug in and charge their devices using its four normal outlets and four usb outlets.

The implementation of these tables was made possible by the SOLARetrievers, a subgroup of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The group was developed in order to discuss projects relating to renewable energy. One of their ideas was to add solar panels to the tables at The Commons Terrace; however, the legal obstacles and the monetary needs would prove to make it a difficult venture.

Members of the SOLARetrievers reached out to Rusty Postelwate, assistant vice president of facilities management, and Roger Becks of ResLife in order to discuss with them the idea of funding their project.

The SOLARetrievers and these potential donors agreed that if the SOLARretrievers won the upcoming ProveIt! competition, in which the SOLARetrievers would present their plan for renewable energy, then they would donate to their project. The SOLARetrievers won one of the two awards given out at this competition, thus receiving a $10,000 grant. This grant was then matched by The Commons, Facilities Management and Reslife, culminating to a grand total of $40,000.

The SOLARetrievers decided to use this money to buy the Solar-Power Doks, each costing about $10,000.

Andrew Brow, fifth year student studying mechanical engineering with a minor in entrepreneurship and member of the SOLARetrievers, was aware of the costly idea but believes, “if we could show people a direct link to using regular solar energy instead of conventional power, we might be able to change the way people think about getting their energy in the future.”

Students have been seen making use of the Solar-Power Doks around campus. Laura Arvin, a freshman Biology major, expressed her interest in them saying, “I think the solar paneled tables are a great way to show students how we can use renewable energy sources, and they’re also a pretty convenient way to charge my phone while I’m working outside.”

This is just one of the first initiatives SOLARetrievers wishes to make possible in order to make the UMBC campus more environmentally friendly.

When asked about future projects, Brow said, “since the SOLARetrievers is a group composed of primarily mechanical engineers, we are working on picking another renewable energy based project to design and build for the USA Science and Engineering Festival in April 2016.”

The SOLARetrievers are also reaching out to construction development groups on campus in order to discuss the possibility of adding more solar panels to the roofs of the buildings on campus, but many complications still exist with these projects. Postlewate is aware of these challenges. “Solar panels are still relatively expensive and they are heavy, often requiring structural modifications for installation on existing structures,” he said.

When asked what the next step is for UMBC to become more environmentally friendly, Postlewate said, “what is needed as we go forward is behavior modification by members of the campus community – behavior that includes more energy conservation and recycling practices each day – these are not very glamorous activities, and are difficult to make normal practice, but can make a difference in reducing our carbon footprint.”