Green Education through Green Power: Photovoltaics as a Conduit to Interdisciplinary Learning

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1 Green Education through Green Power: Photovoltaics as a Conduit to Interdisciplinary Learning The proposed project will enable ABC University to: 1) develop an interdisciplinary educational program to provide undergraduate women students with an understanding of the science underlying performance and evaluation of photovoltaic (PV) cells, 2) provide the opportunity for ABC students to build a PV system to provide web-based energy data for our students, middle school students attending the ABC Math Science Camp, elementary school science educators, and others in the community and beyond, enabling them to evaluate and model the efficiency and economics of PV systems and become a more informed consumer base, and 3) provide a potential conduit to develop a skilled energy sector workforce. Increasing demands for electricity and the need to reduce the carbon intensity of our power generation offers an excellent opportunity for a successful partnership between electricity providers and institutions of higher learning. In Virginia, we will need a skilled workforce and an informed consumer base to help meet the voluntary commitment to achieve a 15 percent base electricity sale from renewable energy sources by Aware of this need, ABC University proposes to develop an educational program that will provide students with an understanding of the science underlying the performance and evaluation of photovoltaic (PV) energy production as well as the opportunity to build a PV system. In addition to generating power, the new PV system will generate and disseminate (via the web) performance data to our students and to anyone in the U.S. with access to the internet, allowing them to evaluate and model the efficiency and economics of PV systems. Once in place, a web-based, user friendly "Solar Dashboard" interface to the data will provide current power output of the PV system, monthly summaries of PV energy generation, current weather information from our constructed weather station, and a bird's eye view of the PV system via rooftop cameras. In addition to the larger system, ABC students will install two demonstration PV arrays in an accessible on-grade location, providing students and visitors to campus the opportunity to closely inspect the design of PV systems. One of the PV arrays will be fixed in the same orientation as those in the larger roof-top system. The other will be mounted on a passive solar tracking system, anecdotally suggested to increase energy production by 25-40%. Data from these PV arrays will also be available via the "Solar Dashboard" allowing for the direct comparison of the energy production between the two systems. During the academic year for this proposed PV project, approximately 200 students (20-25% of the undergraduate student body) enrolled in ten different courses will be involved in various aspects of the installation, monitoring, and performance evaluation of the PV array. Students in these courses will gain skills in one or more of the following areas: * The physics of photovoltaics, energy production, and delivery technologies as well as a cradle-to-grave analysis of silicon processing and manufacturing * Analysis of energy production in relationship to array type and physical characteristics of the environment

2 * Communication strategies developed to educate the general public * Cost/benefit analysis of alternative energy strategies Our plan for Fall 2010 is to focus on determining optimal site locations for the 7.4 kw PV array and the demonstration PV arrays. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Virginia has a good sun index value (0.87), placing it among the top 25 states for solar power potential (NREL, 2010). While we have good solar power potential, it will be critical to choose the best academic building for the PV array. Students in ES/Physics 150: Energy, Climate and the Environment, will be involved in analysis of four metered academic buildings that have suitable roofs with good southern exposure. They will measure net incoming solar radiation, wind speed, temperature, and other site characterization variables and will be tasked with compiling these physical measurements with a set of less quantifiable site characteristics (ease of access, ease of installation, etc.) to develop a decision metric for selection of an installation site. By end of fall term, we will have identified the best roof top for the solar array with a plan for installation either in December or January. In addition, students in ES/Physics 150 during the fall semester will also be involved in development of a suite of instruments for post-installation monitoring of the array's performance and environmental characteristics. At the same time that students in the fall section ES/Physics 150 will be tasked with site identification, students enrolled in ES 470: Environmental Studies Senior Seminar will be responsible for developing and implementing the educational outreach campaign for the PV array. Environmental studies majors in this course generally come from either a science or policy perspective, and the partnership of these ES science and policy students will provide the ideal environment for collaboration as the science students can instruct the others on how PV systems work and the policy students can help build an effective communication strategy. Ideally, these students will use a multimedia approach to educate the broader campus to provide the opportunity for the University to establish the first educational solar array in the Roanoke Valley. Students in both of these courses will visit several local home and business sites with PV arrays and will host one or two on-campus lectures by PV experts. During the January Short Term, we will offer two month-long courses devoted to teaching students about the fundamental science underlying the performance and evaluation of PV cells. The courses on Alternative Energy Technologies and Basic Electronics will focus on solar-electric system design, panel installation and evaluation, AC & DC safety procedures, PV grid-tie and off-grid systems as well as design testing, use of inverters, mounting, and system balance. In the process, students will learn 1) how PV and other alternative energy systems work including the physics of energy generation in solid-state devices, 2) to wire inverters and mount solar panels on rack systems, 3) to work with AC and DC inverters and circuits, 4) to understand the requirements for gridtie in to the utility, and 5) to evaluate the operation, efficiency, and economics of solar energy. Through various projects, students will also explore energy loss issues associated with PV panels and carry out original experiments directed at improving efficiency. Instructors will use a blend of hands-on projects, classroom activities, laboratory exercises, lectures and field work to accomplish these course goals. The culmination of

3 these January courses will involve student participation in the installation of the two demonstration PV arrays. Students completing these courses will be positioned with the knowledge necessary for decision making regarding alternative energy options and skills to participate in the installation and monitoring of the campus PV system. In Spring 2011, students in several additional science courses will be involved with the PV system. Students in Physics 152 and 202: Physical Principles II (non-calculus and calculus based introductions to thermodynamics, electricity and electromagnetism) will be presented with an overview of the solar industry and energy production economics, introduced to PV systems by exploring the basics of electricity (current, voltage, power, energy, semiconductor physics, etc.), and measuring electrical quantities. Students will further explore the major components of PV systems by examining PV cells, modules, arrays, operation and efficiency. In addition, students in ES/Phys 250: Environmental Monitoring will design, calibrate, install, and monitor the sensor array that will collect data on power generation and meteorological conditions for both the demonstration arrays and the full operational array. These students will also implement the data archiving and web-based access scheme for the arrays. In the process, students will gain skills and knowledge on measurement theory, sensor evaluation and selection, calibration techniques, data analysis, and communication of technical data. Finally, students in Chem 241: Inorganic Chemistry will investigate cradle-to-grave aspects of silicon chemistry, especially as it relates to PV cell production. These investigations will be particularly valuable as silicon used in PV cells come in several forms (monocrystalline wafers, multicrystalline wafers, and thin film silicon modules) and the industry faces the dual challenge of needing to increase efficiency while decreasing manufacturing costs. In addition to educating our environmental studies and physics students on the science of PV systems and developing the associated technical skills, we plan to use data generated by the 7.4 kw array and demonstration PV arrays to connect with and educate students in entry level courses as well as those in other academic disciplines. Slightly less than half of all women who graduate from our University enroll in Math 105: Quantitative Reasoning in Today's World, which is designed to help students gain an understanding of fundamental numerical and quantitative skills and their application to everyday life. The students are encouraged to think about the world quantitatively, including topics on critical thinking, unit conversion, rates of change, exponents and logarithms, data analysis and statistical reasoning. Traditionally, the course has culminated with a larger project that requires students to use appropriate mathematical and/or statistical tools in summarizing data, making predictions and establishing causeand-effect relationships from a real-world problem or concern presented in the text or found on the web. While useful, it is much more effective to teach quantitative skills with systems and problems that are real, tangible and ideally in the backyard. The data from the PV array will provide the perfect culminating project for this course as every student on campus will know the roof top PV array and demonstration arrays, they will experience the weather on a day to day basis, and with the click of a mouse be able to see the "live" power generation data. By immersing themselves in the data from these arrays, students in this course will have developed an intuitive and quantitative understanding of energy generation, allowing them to be more intelligent power consumers. Moreover, we

4 hope that exposure to this dynamic system will entice some of these non-traditional science students to become more invested in their energy consumption and perhaps seek careers in the field. Students enrolled in ES 117: Introduction to Environmental Science and Econ 230: Environmental Economics are typically more interested in understanding interaction and impact of human activity on our natural resources. The availability of this real-time dynamic PV system will make tangible the review and analysis of renewable energy opportunities. Students in ES 117 will be involved in weekly analysis of the energy data generated from the larger solar array and demonstration cells, exploring correlations between day length, cloud cover and energy generation. In addition to data collection and analysis, environmental scientists need to develop effective strategies of informing and educating the general public. As such, these students will develop strategies for conveying their findings to the larger campus community. At the same time, students in Econ 230 will utilize the data from the system in a tangible exploration of the costs and benefits of different traditional and renewable energy options. While this project will be located on the campus, we are very committed to reaching out to the larger community of educators and students in Virginia. The roof top array and demonstration arrays will be accessible to visitors to campus, and the roof web camera will offer a bird's eye view of the PV array for anyone in Virginia (or the world) with access to the internet. Moreover, web-based data will also be available to anyone to access and download. In addition, we will utilize the system and its web-based data to support two educational outreach programs sponsored by the University: a teacher education institute for primary teachers (grades 3-6) in SW Virginia and a math science camp for middle school students. For many years, faculty have taught a Science Summer Elementary Institute, funded by grants from the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV). This intensive two-week summer professional development institute addresses integration of science, mathematics, and literacy in the curriculum through using research-based strategies including inquiry, active learning, and differentiated instruction. We plan to introduce elementary science teachers to the PV array and corresponding data in the summer of Approximately 30 teachers in the 2011 institute would be introduced to the PV array web site and provided with educational exercises for use with their students during the following years. Exercises would focus on understanding energy as well as the use of data -- both key components of the Standards of Learning in Virginia. By educating elementary school teachers, we have the opportunity to connect hundreds of young Virginians to this project supported by the Dominion Higher Educational Partnership, exposing them to one of the many diverse energy sources that will be part of their future and encouraging them to explore the energy sector as a future career option. In addition, middle school students (ages 10-14) participating in the Math and Science Camp will be introduced to renewable energy sources -- solar, wind, geothermal, and tides. Under the energy unit, students will be working on various PV projects that are directly related to the ABC PV system.

5 ABC University is fully committed to Dominion s goal to develop a skilled work force in target areas that are critical to Dominion (Energy, Environment, and Business). The requested funding will allow nearly 25 percent of undergraduate women from a variety of academic disciplines to gain skills and techniques necessary to install, monitor, and/or interact with this PV project during the academic year. In addition, school teachers and students throughout the region will be given the opportunity to interface with the PV system and the energy and environmental data it generates. If funded, the PV arrays will become an integral part of education for many students across the curriculum. Furthermore, we offer the expertise, network infrastructure, and ability to sustain the PV energy project well beyond the grant period. Power generated by the PV array will be monitored and the data made available to all via the internet for the lifetime of the system. Students in several future classes (e.g. Math 105, ES 117, Physics 152/202, Econ 230) will continue to utilize the data to better understand the operation, efficiency, and impact of the PV array. We also plan to survey the faculty and student body to assess the utilization of our energy website and develop strategies to more broadly educate the campus community on the system and its educational potential. Furthermore, our work with elementary science teachers will result in the development of learning modules, which will allow students to examine PV power generation, compare power generation between passive tracking and fixed arrays, compare power generation under different weather, daylight, and seasonal conditions, as well as compare power potential between our PV system and others located in different regions of the country. These will be made available to educators and the public via the web, traffic on our web site will be monitored, and students in different classes (e.g. ES 117, 470) will work to develop strategies to increase the educational impact of our site.

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