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The Kansas Technology Center’s new solar canopy stands at the edge of the parking lot near the School of Construction’s outdoor classroom on Nov. 1. The solar panels replace a noisy generator which powers tools. Caleb Oswell

New solar canopy shapes student learning 

The Kansas Technology Center’s new solar canopy stands at the edge of the parking lot near the School of Construction’s outdoor classroom on Nov. 1. The solar panels replace a noisy generator which powers tools. Caleb Oswell

Caleb Oswell photo editor 

A newly installed solar project is changing the way students of technology learn on campus. 

The newly installed project is already having an impact on student learning since its ribbon cutting on Oct. 13. The panels form a canopy over a concrete pad to form a multi-functional shelter. The canopy now provides a quieter work environment for the outdoor classroom which had previously used a loud and distracting generator to power tools. Professors have begun incorporating the panels into their classes with demonstrations describing how they work. Students in the construction program, electronics engineering program, and electric technology program will now get hands on experience working with solar panels.  

Erik Mayer, professor in electrical engineering technology, will use the solar canopy for his curriculum. 

“It’s going to be good because they’re going to see a practical application,” Mayer said. “We actually see it physically working. We usually just show a schematic.” 

Mayer said that he plans to use the solar panels in the Spring semester for EET 641, Electric Power. Part of the course discusses the topic of renewable energy systems and applies solar panels to other topics in engineering. 

“One of the components of that is what is called an inverter, it takes DC and converts it into AC,” Mayer said. 

Students recently demonstrated the power draw of the solar canopy. In poor weather conditions, with cloud layers obscuring sunlight, students found the solar array to produce enough power for a toaster. However, in peak lighting conditions the solar canopy could supply enough power for two houses. The solar array is also supplemented by a 25kW lithium-ion battery so that power can be used at the site in worse conditions. 

“If there is a big push to move away from fossil fuels, this is going to be one avenue,” Mayer said. “The price of solar panels has dropped in the last couple of years, the biggest issue is you’re limited by the sun. So, if a cloud comes by the amount of energy you could generate is going to fall away. So that’s one big issue. So one thing they’re trying to solve is how to store all of this electric power on a utility scale.” 

In the past, students in the electronics engineering program used a small cart with an attached solar panel to show the output of the panels and the draw of appliances such as different light bulbs and a fan. This cart was donated by Westar Energy after the installation of solar panels on the Plaster Center in 2015. The newly installed panels were donated by Evergy. PSU President Dan Shipp, College of Technology Dean Bob Frisbee, as well as Evergy Vice President Jeff Martin came to the ribbon cutting to give statements. Martin is a 1993 Pittsburg State graduate from the electronic engineering technology program. 

“What makes this unique is this is an off-grid system. It generates about 25,000 watts of power for the students, so they can come out here, they can charge their tools… and also the lighting,” Martin said. 

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