Students build mobile solar power system

Unit, designed as alternative to fuel-powered generator, boasts solar panels, wind turbine and rechargeable batteries.

Mobile solar power system

From left, J.P. Rebong and Luis Duarte, undergraduate electrical engineering students, stand on the mobile solar power system they helped design and build

November 30, 2012

The power system, which sits on an 18-foot trailer, is a sustainable alternative to diesel- or gasoline-powered generators

RIVERSIDE — Students from the University of California, Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering have designed and built a mobile solar power system aimed to provide clean energy everywhere from on-campus concerts to national parks or forests where scientists are conducting fieldwork.

The mobile solar power system, a sustainable alternative to a diesel- or gasoline-powered generator, is an 18-foot trailer with six solar panels, a wind turbine and eight rechargeable batteries, each of which is several times larger than a car battery, which store the energy for use when there is no sunlight.

The system will be on display from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (Dec. 1) during the unveiling of the UCR Community Garden. The garden is adjacent to parking lot 30, near the corner of Canyon Crest Drive and Martin Luther King Avenue. The mobile power system will be used to help design a solar system to pump water in the garden.

Work on the mobile solar power system began in the spring as a senior design project by four undergraduate engineering students: Abel Garcia, Joseph Vicario, Meir Shachar and Ryan Six.

Those four graduated in June and a new set of students took over: J.P. Rebong, Luis Duarte, Jonathan Wong and Kimberly Huynh. They are all juniors and electrical engineering majors expect Wong, who is a mechanical engineering major.

The students got involved because the project provides them a hands-on opportunity to do research in the growing field of renewable energy.

“This really takes what we learn in class and allows us to apply it,” said Duarte, a graduate of Montclair High School.

Rebong, a graduate of Summit High School in Fontana, added: “Often times we learn about things first by working on this project. That’s always cool to go into the classroom already having the knowledge.”

The $34,000 project is funded by the Green Campus Action Plan (GCAP), a student-approved referendum in 2010 that imposes a fee on students to fund sustainability related projects on campus.

The zero-emission mobile solar power system works by linking the solar panels to a charge controller, which regulates voltage and sends it to charge the batteries. The batteries are connected to an inverter, which converts a stable voltage from DC to AC. The system generates up to 6 kW of 120V 60Hz AC power, allowing it to be used to power anything through an outlet on the trailer.

Mobile solar power system
From left, Sadrul Ula, managing director of the Winston Chung Global Energy Center, Luis Duarte and J.P. Rebong, both electrical engineering students, stand in front of the mobile solar power system.

The system is designed to power all the audio equipment at an on-campus concert, said Sadrul Ula, who is advising the students and is managing director of the Winston Chung Global Energy Center at UC Riverside’s Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). Also mentoring the students are Alfredo Martinez-Morales, managing director of Southern California Research Initiative for Solar Energy (SC-RISE) and John Cook, UC Riverside’s director of sustainability.

There are similar mobile solar power systems for sale, but they don’t have the wind turbine and weren’t designed to be easily modified, Ula said. For example, different solar panels, inverters and batteries can be swapped in and out in the student designed system for efficiency testing and evaluation of newer products, he said.

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