Data from on-campus solar charging stations to be available soon

Jessica Shu

The future looks bright for solar energy as design studio Sol Design Lab said they hope to improve energy knowledge by making the data from UT’s two solar charging stations visible.

The two on-campus solar charging stations are located at the intersection of 23rd Street and San Jacinto Boulevard as well as the Perry-Castañeda Library Plaza. They were installed in 2014 by Sol Design Lab and feature high-quality, monocrystalline silicon Lumos solar panels, which have a 30-year lifetime.

Each station produces an average of 1.4 kilowatt hours per day. That energy can charge about 280 cellphones, according to Beth Ferguson, UT alumna and founder of Sol Design Lab.

The goal, however, is not just to charge phones, Ferguson added.

“We want to provide the first (solar) experience and get people thinking about solar for other parts of their lives,” Ferguson said. “Solar power has come far. Prices have gone down.”

Ferguson’s solar energy visualization project, called SolaViz, was awarded a research grant from UT’s Longhorn Innovation Fund for Technology and is picking up the pace, according to Ferguson.

“We weren’t able to connect (the stations) to a consistent network until March this year, so the data is just coming in,” Ferguson said.

Soon, a mobile website or app will show exactly how much energy is produced and used at these stations. In particular, Ferguson said she hopes to collect data on environmental data such as air quality. 

Jim Walker, director of sustainability at UT, said he’s excited about the SolaViz project because there hasn’t been a lot of outreach for solar energy on campus.

“Our natural gas power plant is super efficient, so in terms of energy production, our solar panels don’t do much,” Walker said. “They do, however, help students recognize and learn about solar.”

Ferguson led a design workshop last week to create infographics on solar energy production for educational use. She and her team also recently won the Austin Green Award for the Electric Drive solar station, which encourages energy-efficient transportation.

Ferguson added that she hopes that by sharing her research, off-grid solar charging stations will gain traction. Walker said he supports future solar advancements like this on campus.

“Solar is definitely in our future,” Walker said.