OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Student Takes Solar Trailer on Road Trip

08/17/2007

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Call it solar energy on wheels. Or sun power to go. And it can go almost anywhere, thanks to some innovative engineering by students at Oregon State University.

During their senior year at OSU, mechanical engineering students Sam Walker, Blake Giles and Rick Spindler designed and built a solar trailer that can supply temporary power to outdoor concerts, generate electricity for remote rescue operations, or operate pumps at environmental clean-up sites.

The glass-walled trailer with a fold-out solar array on top also serves as a unique demonstration device that Walker will put to work next week.

He departs Monday from OSU for a West Coast road trip accompanied by filmmaker Hovey Grosvenor, who will shoot video for a documentary about the trip. They plan to capture reactions from people as they demonstrate the trailer at wind farms, power plants, biofuel facilities and other locations.

“We’ll also pull into small towns, fold out the trailer’s solar array, put out dozens of plastic sunflowers and talk to people about electricity and the different methods used to produce it,” says Walker, who will pull the trailer with a biodiesel-fueled Isuzu box truck that will also serve as bedroom, kitchen, and film studio during the two-week trip.

“We’re calling this trip the ‘Demystification Tour,’ because we plan to dispel myths, displace fears, and encourage informed decision-making when it comes to different sources of power,” Walker said.

While other mobile solar devices are available on the market, Walker says their solar trailer is well ahead of the pack. “Nothing comes close to ours in terms of solar generating capacity and demonstrability,” said Walker, who plans to visit festivals, rodeos, fairs, and other outdoor events during the trip.

The OSU students designed and built the trailer from scratch, tapping their engineering education and a grant of $30,000 from OSU’s Student Sustainability Institute, which owns the solar trailer and will use it as a learning tool. When not powering campus events, it will be connected to a net meter, selling excess power to the local electric utility.

In addition to the SSI grant, the students received $24,000 in equipment and labor donations from several solar suppliers and local businesses. Outback Power Systems in Arlington, Wash., contributed much of the solar technology, and a Corvallis fabrication and machine shop, RJH Enterprises, donated significant shop time and provided students with an important design experience.

Other contributors included MK Battery, WattSun Solar Trackers, Abundant Solar, Smith Glass and Freebird Auto Body and Paint.

“OSU’s mechanical engineering program teaches us concurrent design, which includes designing with all project stakeholders in mind,” Walker said. “Using this approach, we developed a relationship with our fabricator early in the design phase of the project.”

The Solar Trailer is built atop a 12-foot by 8-foot flatbed with the following features:

• Transparent glass panels covering 50 percent of the trailer sides;

• An 1,800 watt expandable solar array;

• Battery storage capacity of 4,000 amp-hours;

• Two grid interactive inverters (7,200 watt output capacity);

• Dual axis sun tracker;

• Mechanical lift that moves array into sun tracking position.

The tour schedule includes stops in Portland; eastern Oregon and Washington at wind farms and hydroelectric facilities; southern Oregon and northern California at geothermal, nuclear and solar generating sites; Salem, at the Oregon State Fair, Kettle Foods, Sequential Biofuels and the state capitol; and at other locations.

The documentary film will be geared toward a non-technical audience and expose viewers to a variety of power generating technologies, Walker said. He and Grosvenor plan to submit the documentary to major film festivals and institutes.