UA solar project is teaching tool for future engineers

Solar panels at the University of Alabama's Sewell-Thomas baseball stadium help power the facility and provide data for UA's researchers. (Brittany Faush-Johnson/Alabama NewsCenter)

University of Alabama Athletics and the College of Engineering celebrated a partnership with a bright future last week as new solar panels at the Sewell-Thomas baseball stadium went online.

The solar panels, situated behind the outfield, will provide power to the stadium while engineering students will collect and study data from the panels.

While the solar panels are new to the university, former Athletic Director Bill Battle and College of Engineering Dean Charles Karr have collaborated before.

“Coach Bill Battle and Dean Charles Karr have a history of exploring opportunities for engineering and athletics to work together,” said Allen McClendon, director of external affairs and development for the University of Alabama College of Engineering. “Over time, these conversations have yielded many great successes, innovative ideas and unique educational opportunities. This is one of those opportunities that led to the partnership of a premier athletics program, a premier college of engineering and a premier public utilities company.”

Among the project’s supporters were the Alabama Power Foundation and First Solar, a solar panel manufacturing company that donated the 80 solar panels creating four 20-panel, 2.2-kilowatt canopies.

“First Solar was eager to work with the University of Alabama to bring solar power to the new ballpark,” said Steve Krum, director of corporate communications for First Solar. “We also were interested in the links between the ballpark project and the school’s engineering program. It was a great way for us to share in both a practical application and the academic program.”

A weather station and temperature monitors placed below each solar panel canopy will allow engineering students to study and collect data from the panels. With this data, students studying solar technologies will have the opportunity to see in real time how solar photovoltaic technology works with the integration of lithium-ion battery technology.

“Students will have access to actual data to understand system efficiencies related to energy conversion and storage processes,” said McClendon. “Additionally, they will be able to investigate the impact of weather conditions on power production.”

This data is not limited to engineering students. Visitors to the stadium will be able to see in real time what is being generated at informational kiosks. The kiosks will display the collected data and how the energy is being used. The same data displayed at the stadium will also be displayed on monitors at the College of Engineering in an innovative area known as “The Cube.”

The university is already looking at ways to incorporate this technology and partnership into community outreach in the form of events with schools and community organizations.

The solar project is one of several green and sustainable projects at the stadium since it was renovated in 2015. Additional green initiatives include LED lighting, electric vehicle chargers, recycled building materials and high-efficiency HVAC equipment.

Republished with permission of Alabama NewsCenter.