Solar panels have been with us since 1883 when Charles Fritts decided that he would coat a thin layer of what is called selenium with an extremely thin layer of gold. These resulting cells had an electrical output of only about 1%, but his invention led to further movement in solar energy.
This past March, Mr. Geovani Caldero, an instructor and program manager of Career and Technical education from Solar One, visited WHSAD Sophomore architecture CADD classes. Mr. Caldero worked with us for a span of two weeks to present information on what panels are and how they are used. He also shared personal stories about his community, and how the impact of Hurricane Marie on Puerto Rico had him thinking more intently about the importance of solar technology. After the storm, many parts of the island had no electricity for over eleven months. No power meant no water as water pumps shut down because of this destructive hurricane. Mr. Caldero lost contact with his family in Puerto Rico and decided to collect five thousand dollars worth of solar equipment and went himself to the island and installed solar panels that were connected to motors that were attached to water pumps which brought back water to his and many other communities. When considering the switch to solar energy, it’s important to take into account many factors such as climate and how much sunlight these panels will be able to receive from a specific area.
Light from the sun gets captured by solar panels as direct current. This current cannot be used unless it is converted. Converters take DC (Direct Current) and turn that into AC (Alternating Currents), which is the electricity you use throughout your house. The light emitted from the sun is completely different from that of a fluorescent light bulb. The sun emits a nearly continuous spectrum (a complete rainbow), while fluorescent bulbs emit some colors of the rainbow but not others. At the start of this industry-based workshop, we were first introduced to what is called a grid, which is a network of providers and consumers that are all connected through an electrical system. A grid is important because there are common non-solar configurations which are power lines and step down transformers, which reduce the voltage that isn’t too dangerous for use. Then there are electricity meters that tell you the consumption of watts being used in a household. Lastly, there are breaker panels which are used to give or cut power to a certain location in a household.
After learning many system configurations and components, I began using a software called Helioscope. This software is used as an engine to predict how an area without solar panels would possibly function with solar panels. With the introduction of this particular software we were first tasked to apply solar panels to our own school building. This task was by far the most engaging because this software allowed me not only to visualize a scenario where WHSAD gets solar panels but also how beneficial this energy would be not only for the school but also the environment. This software has taught me to focus on the path of the sun and the spacing in the panel rows.
One challenge that was by far the most time consuming was the building code and regulations. For my building, I chose the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, New York. There needed to be a way for installers to walk on the roof to have panels. Because the clinic’s rooftop is so large, I had to account for the regulation and needed to make sure for every forty feet there was at least a walkway for these installers to work with. In case of a building’s roof not supporting solar panel installation, the workshop has also shown ways of using solar panels such as the canopy method for buildings that don’t support the installation of solar panels. This method allows the client to use an empty space closer to an open area on ground level. The information we learned strongly reminded me of the Department of Building trip that I attended as during that session we learned a great deal about regulations that impact building in New York City.
One partner that Mr. Caldero had was the sophomore architecture teacher Mr. Rodriguez. In his words, “this workshop has opened opportunities for all of my students. Students not only are prepared for internships involving sustainability but also have knowledge in fields such as green jobs or sustainable jobs which include waste management, environmental technology, and architecture. This workshop may also prove beneficial to students who plan to implement solar energy into this year’s sophomore project which focuses on the student’s ability to create a home for their client based on a specific location” The Solar One session, along with other workshops, helps me prepare for many projects that I’m currently working on and also gives me insights into how technological innovation impacts potential career pursuits.
After everything, this program has left many students, such as myself, to further investigate sustainable resources as alternatives to nonrenewable resources. Solar Energy is the first renewable energy that comes to mind when talking about a sustainable way to use energy. What isn’t being used gets pushed back to the city and utilized by someone else.