How My Final Lab Project Informed My Holiday Wish List

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This past fall, I had the opportunity to take ENGR (Engineering) 035: Solar Energy Systems. Throughout the course, Professor Everbach gently reminded us that our final project would count as two lab reports that could be on any topic related to the course. Additionally, throughout the semester, we had quite a few guest lecturers who ranged in areas of expertise from the technology of the battery storage to the actual installation of residential array.

While listening to the different guest lecturers, I began to develop an interest in what solar panels might look like for my own home. Hearing about how the price of the materials had gone way down and how certain government policies were making it favorable to enter the solar market, I began thinking that this really could be a technically and economically viable option for a residential house. Eventually, I was able to put the two together: my interest in the viability of residential solar arrays and a quest for a final project topic.

For Thanksgiving break, Professor Everbach let me take home some of the equipment that we had used in an earlier lab to measure a site’s shading. Shading is an important consideration in knowing how viable a site is for solar panels.

A picture of the Solar Pathfinder lens at the site of a potential solar array can then be analyzed with corresponding software in the solar lab.

By this point, I had captured my parents’ interest, and my dad proclaimed an interest in having his backyard shed be entirely self-sufficient. With only one lightbulb and a tiny mid-1990s TV used solely for Eagles game being powered in the shed, this seemed like a viable option, but not after realizing the shed was 75% covered by trees.

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The shed proved to be too shaded for solar panels.

I then switched to analyzing rooftop panels for my house in Pennsylvania and for my family’s shore house in New Jersey, both of which had minimal shading and great south-facing slopes. My final project turned into a comparison of the energy demand and price of photovoltaic solar panels for each house. Professor Everbach recommended taking a look at the houses’ electric bills, so with my dad’s cooperation, I got a pretty accurate idea of each house’s current energy usage and expenses.

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The houses were much less shaded than the shed, though, and had ideal south-facing slopes that can capture most of the radiation on the sun’s trajectory through the sky.

With this project taking place right before the holidays, the idea popped into my head to ask for solar panels for the holidays. My pitch on my wish list was that this was not really a present for me, but within 9-13 years, this would be not only pay for itself with cost savings, but start serving as a present to my parents with substantial economic savings. Additionally, this would be a gift to the environment.

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Results of the potential upfront cost, cost savings, and energy demand that could be met through solar panels at the New Jersey house

I blame the absence of solar panels under the Christmas tree this year on the late end to the fall semester. I finished my report on December 21, which did not give my parents sufficient time to consider the large upfront costs (that would come with large paybacks). I’m optimistic, though, that further discussions with my parents might result in greater consideration and possibly even fruition of solar panels for my house.

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