Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016 - (Page 20)
SU STA I N AB I L I T Y
Solar Garden plants
by Leah Twilley
The solar power plant on the Allendale
Campus, which began operating in April,
isn't just producing solar energy but
also learning opportunities for the
The 17-acre, 11,200-panel plant,
located south of Pierce Street near 48th
Avenue, is the largest community solar
project in Michigan. The site, owned and
operated by Consumers Energy through
its Solar Gardens program, provides
electricity produced by solar energy to
enrolled customers in West Michigan,
including Grand Valley. The university
subscribed to 500 kilowatts, which will
produce 750,000-800,000 kilowatt
hours per year.
Thanks to a $55,000 grant from
Consumers Energy, students and
faculty members at Grand Valley
combined their brain power to design
and build two transportable, solar
energy-producing modules this summer.
The structures were built and designed
by a team of six students from the
School of Engineering and a team from
Grand Valley's Muskegon Innovation Hub.
The unit created by the engineering
team has the capacity to emit four
kilowatts of electricity and serves as
THE SOLAR GARDEN WILL
KILOWATT HOURS PER YEAR
FOR GRAND VALLEY
an educational tool to raise awareness
about solar energy.
Team captain Alec Nichols, a
mechanical engineering major, said
the module travels to different sites
in West Michigan to demonstrate the
technology and collect data, which is
made available on a public website.
The group hopes the data can be
used for research.
Eight solar panels and a collection of
solar shingles - a fairly new technology
- make up the portable system.
"Solar shingles are designed to
replace traditional shingles on a house,
so when you reroof your house, instead
of using a regular shingle, you can
opt into a solar shingle," said Tyler
Roelfsema, a mechanical engineering
major. "The way in which they generate
energy from the sun is the same process
as solar panels."
The unit, which took two months
to build, spans 18 feet when it is fully
set up. The panels are adjustable, so
they can tilt in various directions to
measure how different angles affect
the system's output.
During the design and building
phases of the project, group members
concentrated on different areas of the
system: electrical, mechanical, software
and web development, and educational
Nichols said one of the group's
biggest design challenges was making
the system operate off a grid.
"Most solar energy systems are
tied to a grid system, like the solar
power plant in Allendale," he said.
"One of the biggest parts of the
systems is the inverter which takes
power generated by panels and
converts it into consumable electricity.
We had to find a way around that with
our free-standing system."
Students were Roelfsema, Nichols,
William Neuson, Benjamin Stenberg,
Engineering students created a solar energy
module that can travel to demonstrate its
technology while collecting data.
photo by Amanda Pitts
John Wilks and Kevin Wu; they all
graduated in August. Affiliate faculty
member Terry Stevens served as
The second solar energy module was
built by Energy Partners, a tenant at the
Muskegon Innovation Hub, formerly the
Michigan Alternative and Renewable
Energy Center. It includes solar panels
and patented battery technology that
allows the systems to provide electricity
at all times.
The solar power plant will
continue to serve as an extension
of the classroom at Grand Valley.
Consumers Energy will provide a
$20,000 grant each year for the next
six years for proposed interdisciplinary
projects and curriculum.
A new course, Renewable Energy
Management and Modeling, will train
students in applied energy analysis
using the plant as a case study. The site
will be incorporated into the curriculum
of more than 12 courses in engineering,
environmental studies, statistics, natural
resource management and biology.
Practical projects and research will
include analyzing data generated
at the garden, monitoring biotic
and abiotic conditions of garden
installation, creating awareness pieces
and developing training for emergency
personnel entering a home or business
that has solar panel installations.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016
Q&A Erika King
Not your average spring break
Off the Path
Fall Arts Celebration
Grand Valley Magazine Summer 2016