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TRU project underway trying to prove solar power can be sexy

Work is underway at TRU on Sept. 29, 2017, to build the solar compass. It will be used to power computers in the Arts and Education building and bring awareness to how solar power doesn't have to be ugly.
September 29, 2017 - 2:00 PM

KAMLOOPS - Work began this week on the installation of a "solar compass" on the TRU campus and the man responsible says his goal is to combat the impression that solar is inevitably ugly.

Geography and Environmental Studies professor Dr. Michael Mehta says the goal of this project, in front of the Arts and Education building, is to prove solar energy production can also have 'curb appeal.'

"It's an example of when art meets science," he says. "It's a chance to do something innovative, esthetically pleasing, and useful at the same time. It's also a chance to create technology that people can see and experience on a regular basis."

A digital rendering of how the compass will be laid out.
A digital rendering of how the compass will be laid out.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Thompson Rivers University

He wants to put them out front, instead of hidden away on a rooftop or in a field like most solar arrays.

"In this case having an array on campus that is accessible and attractive and world-leading in terms of uniqueness and innovation... it's something for the community to be proud of," he says.

While solar panels have been installed on sidewalks and roads throughout the country, TRU's compass is unique and has created some interesting challenges.

"It involves designing the system to work optimally in a flat or horizontal plane," he says. "And to be durable and easily maintained. So what we've had to do is find a way to fasten down the modules that's stable, safe, and theft-proof while at the same time we had to find a way to make them removable for maintenance and replacement."

The system will be made up of 64 modules at 80 watts each for a total rating of a little over 5 kilowatts. That energy will be able to power most of the computers in the Arts and Education building.

Mehta admits that laying the panels flat for aesthetic purposes does cut the energy absorption potential for the panels but, with only a 10 to 15 per cent loss, the trade off is worth it.

Most of the materials and labour were donated by local companies so the solar compass, as well as a solar sidewalk, have come at no cost to the school. The two projects combined will come in at around $30,000, slightly less than the grant TRU received to do the projects.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Mike McDonald or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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