Sunshine powers portion of UNI's CEEE

Posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2005

Patricia Higby, energy educator, UNI Center for Energy & Environmental Education, (319) 273-6012
Recayi Pecen, associate professor, UNI Department of Industrial Technology, (319) 273-2598
Rebecca Schultze, University Marketing & Public Relations, (319) 273-6728

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa -- Large windows and an open design have always allowed the sun to naturally light much of the University of Northern Iowa's Center for Energy & Environmental Education (CEEE) since it opened in 1994. But since May, sunlight has also provided the CEEE with renewable energy through a photovoltaic (PV) display. The display converts sunlight to electricity and has the potential to save the university more than 8,000 pounds of coal each year.

The PV display was a senior project for industrial technology majors Dustin Vercande of Brooklyn, Iowa, and Cory Fees of Urbandale. They worked with project coordinators Recayi Pecen, UNI associate professor of electrical and information engineering technology, Patricia Higby, CEEE energy educator, and Dave Andersen, maintenance/support coordinator for the UNI Physical Plant, to create this educational display with funding from the Pella Rollscreen Foundation and the Iowa Energy Center.

There are 12 PV panels mounted on three separate freestanding racks south of the CEEE. The location and the panel angle allow for maximum sun exposure. The power created from the PV display is tied to the building's existing power grid via a DC/AC inverter and can provide up to six kilowatt-hours per day of zero-emission electricity to the CEEE.

'It's about enough to power a microwave or six 100-watt light bulbs,' Higby said. 'It's not a lot, but it's a great start.

'The way this system was built allows for future expansion. We should be able to triple the number of solar collectors in the future, with no change to the wiring or structure. All we'll need is a little more funding or a company to donate some photovoltaics to test.'

The PV display has a self-monitoring system with a digital readout for real-time readings of power output. Campus tours of the project and outreach programs are in the works for the 2005-2006 school year, according to Pecen. There also are plans for Internet-based monitoring of the energy input from the PV system and the creation of an informational display for the CEEE lobby before the National Solar Tour, which will be at UNI on Oct. 1.

'From large power plants to tiny solar panels, solar electric power is used in cities and rural villages around the world,' Pecen said. 'This project is a gift of a zero-emission electrical source to UNI and to Cedar Falls.'

UNI currently receives a large portion of its energy from the coal-fired power plant west of Hudson Road. Tom Richtsmeier, assistant director of Energy Services at UNI, says PV, solar and wind energy are not yet financially viable to implement campus-wide, but UNI has requested funding to investigate the use of alternate fuels.