A solar-powered art project provides a remote green energy laboratory for engineering technology students

Dale Litwhiler, Frances Jallu

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


An outdoor campus art project required some technology to help create a more meaningful experience for its beholders. The canvas for the artwork is a bus stop shelter structure that is no longer used by the local transit authority. The required technology is a custom solar-powered audio system. The glass walls of the bus stop shelter are covered with translucent vinyl overlays containing candid photographs of campus students and faculty. The audio system plays recorded sound bite excerpts from interviews with students, faculty, and distinguished campus guests. The theme of the artwork experience is "Knowledge is Power" and is intended to provide campus visitors with a glimpse into some of the activities of the college. The custom audio system was designed, built and installed by faculty, staff, and students in the engineering technology department. When the system was designed, the opportunity was taken to include the required electronics to monitor and record the health and status of the solar panel and battery power system. The data obtained from the system is used to help engineering technology students understand the characteristics and performance of solar energy systems. The system contains all of the typical components of large solar power systems. The south-facing side of the structure contains a small stationary (non-sun-tracking) solar panel. The sound system enclosure contains a sealed lead-acid (SLA) battery. The charging of the battery is controlled by electronics on a custom circuit board within the sound system. This circuit board also contains a microcontroller to control operation of the embedded MP3 player and amplifier. Another onboard microcontroller performs the power system measurements, stores the data in non-volatile memory and transfers the data to an external computer via the serial port when queried. By analyzing the voltage and current measurements for the solar panel and battery as well as the battery temperature, engineering technology students can see how the system functions for various combinations of sunlight, battery state of charge, temperature, and power demand from the load. The students gain appreciation for how proper power management is crucial in "Green" energy systems. This paper presents the system design constraints, features, problems and modifications. Typical raw data as well as student-analyzed data is also presented. The ways in which the system is used in the engineering technology curriculum is also provided.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalASEE Annual Conference and Exposition, Conference Proceedings
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009
Event2009 ASEE Annual Conference and Exposition - Austin, TX, United States
Duration: Jun 14 2009Jun 17 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering


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