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Solar energy explored at PSU

Portland State University could possibly be the home of the largest solar panel in operation in Oregon. Presently, at least three major solar energy projects are in the works at PSU: the Parking Structure Three project, a summer course on solar energy and a Center for Solar Excellence.

The largest plan is the proposed solar project on top of Parking Structure Three, which is currently under construction. The new structure will be a five story parking building.

A large steel or aluminum frame holding the solar cells would canopy over the majority of cars on the top floor.

According to Michele Crim, the sustainability coordinator for PSU, the solar energy project is still in the conception stages. Crim said that parking facilities are determining what kind of funding is needed for the project.

“This would be a very expensive project, primarily because solar panels are still expensive,” Crim said.

Crim said the university does not have the funds to pay for the proposed project and that it would need to be a community project. However, Crim said that there is a great deal of interest from outside agencies about the project.

Crim said a project at this magnitude would not only help the university but could help local people involved in the solar energy industry. She said the project could possibly help lower the price of solar panels by driving the market.

Crim said it is unclear how much power the project in Parking Structure Three would produce and the energy derived from the solar panels would either go to help PSU’s power source or the energy would go to Portland’s main power grid.

Crim said the Parking Structure Three project could have a great deal of research potential.

“It is the university’s responsibility to help further technology like this [solar energy],” Crim said.

Carl Wamser, professor of chemistry is teaching a summer course entitled Solar Energy Technology Education. The course includes laboratory and field work. This is the second year that Wamser has taught a solar energy at Portland State.

Students from Wamser’s class will be investigating what is entailed in the Parking Structure Three project.

“Teaching about it [solar energy] in a more general way is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Wamser said.

Last year Wamser’s class was responsible for the implementation of a solar energy panel on top of Science Building One. The panel produces one kilowatt of energy that is returned back into the power grid of the building.

The other solar energy project at Portland State is the idea for a Center of Solar Excellence. The center would focus on the manufacturing of solar panels.

Graig Spolek, chair of the mechanical engineering department, said that the center would be a marriage of industry, government and universities.

“PSU is trying to pursue this as a part of our commitment to sustainability,” Spolek said.

According to Spolek, the Center of Solar Excellence would be an interdisciplinary and interuniversity endeavor.

Portland State would be the main location for the center. Funding for the project is being sought.