Megan Archer

Stephanie Perrone (left), project manager of the Energy & Water Conservation Program, speaks to UT staff members at the solar panel charging station launch party Friday.

Photo Credit: Claire Schaper | Daily Texan Staff

Three organizations hosted a party Friday to promote their latest innovation: solar panel charging stations on campus.

At the party, the UT Green Fee Committee, Science Undergraduate Research Group and Sol Design Lab celebrated the installation of two solar charging stations intended to promote a greener environment on the University campus. According to Megan Archer, environmental science senior and Green Fee Committee student assistant, the project’s main goal is to inspire conversations about renewable energy, starting with the solar-powered charging station. Both charging stations, which were installed in June, provide 12 110-volt electrical outlets, six USB charging ports and Wi-Fi.

“This solar panel, for example, will still work and provide electricity if there is a blackout. That’s why solar itself is so important. We want to spark environmental initiative.”

In 2011, Archer collaborated on the project with Beth Ferguson, founder of Sol Design Lab. Ferguson, who graduated from the University with a master’s in design, first thought of the idea when she was a student.

“The idea of solar panel charging stations became my thesis project when I bought an electric scooter and had no place to charge it,” Ferguson said. “That was back in 2008.”

Ferguson provided the solar charging stations from her lab in San Francisco, but throughout every step of the process, UT students from different departments were involved in learning how to design with solar and fabrication model making.

“Basically there is a charge controller that acts as the ‘brain’ and is connected to solar panel and battery,” Ferguson said. “Then, the battery is connected to the inverter, and the inverter is connected to the outlet, which provides the DC power.”

The two stations are located near the Perry-Castañeda Library and the Art Building and Museum. At Friday’s party, which was held at the station near the Art Building and Museum, chemical engineering junior Eddie Zhan said he was impressed with the station’s wide range of capabilities.

“I learned it harnesses solar energy to create electricity and allows you to charge anything, [like] electric cars [and] phones,” Zhan said.

Ferguson will teach app-building workshops hosted by the University the next three Sundays.

“We actually did our first round two years ago where kids made solar charging station designs, but now these upcoming workshops will be focused on creating apps to promote the solar panel charging stations,” Ferguson said.

The University installed a solar-powered charging station outside the Art Building and Museum in June. The station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

After four years of preparation, the University installed two solar-powered charging stations, one outside the Perry-Castañeda Library and the other outside the Art Building and Museum, in June.

While other campuses such as Stanford University and Hampshire College have introduced similar charging stations, these stations are the first solar-powered, permanent fixtures on the UT campus. Powered through a roof composed of three solar panels, each station can charge up to six cell phones, laptops or electrical bikes at a time, among other electronics. Each station's six batteries allow users to charge their electronics at nighttime and on cloudy days.

The Green Fee Committee, an on-campus organization made up of students, faculty and staff members, decided in 2010 to fund the student proposal for the charging stations as part of its mission to support environmental-conscious campus initiatives. Karen Blaney, program coordinator of the Green Fee Committee, said while the stations may not significantly offset the use of fossil fuel-based energy on campus, they can teach students and community members about solar energy in an interactive way.

“It reminds people that solar energy is an option and that it’s a growing technology,” Blaney said.

During her freshman year, Megan Archer, environmental and biological sciences senior, pushed the original proposal for a solar-power project on campus as part of a class assignment with now-alumni Eric Swanson and Austin Jorn. She said her team originally had proposed solar panel roofs on University buildings, but budgetary restraints stood in the way. They decided to stick with their idea of solar-powered technology because they wanted to see solar energy on campus for the first time.

“We liked the idea of how restrictive [working with solar power] was,” Archer said. “UT didn’t have anything that was solar-powered then.”

Archer collaborated with Beth Ferguson, a UT alumna and founder of Sol Design Lab, a design company that has helped create solar charging stations at other universities, to rent a temporary charging station for the PCL plaza in 2012. During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model

During workshops, students in environmental science classes contributed ideas for the final model.

“Solar power is hard to understand, so we wanted the project to be hands-on,” Archer said. “We wanted students to have that hands-on experience with our solar station to create their own and modify [their stations] to meet their needs.”

With funding from the Green Fee Committee and the Science Undergraduate Research Group, the customized charging stations, which cost about $60,000 each, were constructed.

Nicholas Phillips, mechanical engineering senior and president of student group Engineers for a Sustainable World, said he hopes the demand for renewable energy products increases on campus.

“The main hindrance with renewable energy advancements is the lack of awareness of the current technologies that are available,” Phillips said in an email. “By having more projects on campus, we are making sustainability become a staple in our campus and by extensions our lives.”

The final phase of the charging station project will include a customized touch screen device, which will display the station's available stored energy, according to Blaney. Students are working on a mobile feature, such as a website or phone application, that will allow users to check the station's available energy, Blaney said.

The University will celebrate the installation of the charging stations on Sept. 19 outside the Art Building and Museum with a series of solar energy workshops.