Curious passersby at the Edenton campus of College of The Albemarle may have recently noticed several students taking a hands-on approach to sustainable energy, as they work to transform a simple, unenclosed cargo trailer into an environmentally-friendly mobile energy station.
Two weeks ago, three students from the community college’s Sustainable Capstone class – part of COA’s Sustainability Technologies curriculum – began construction of the earth-friendly project and expect to have the green-energy mobile station built by the end of March.
Charles Purser, COA’s chair of the
Design, Manufacturing and Industrial
Technology program, said the school’s sustainability technologies courses include classes on renewable energy, as well as green building and environmental technologies. Students in the program learn about things like renewable energy, waste reduction, environmental responsibility and energy management.
Many of those concepts will be on display – literally – once the project is completed. Purser said the mobile energy station will be a great resource for the program as it visits local schools to teach area students about green energy.
“Think of a 14-foot-by-6-foot trailer,” Purser said. “And our idea is to have a roof section with solar panels. And once they get it set up, it will also have a wind turbine.”
In the coming weeks, the students will be putting a roof on the trailer and then installing the solar panels so the unit can produce its own electricity. They will also be adding solar thermal panels, which will help the unit generate its own hot water. And for those stretches of rainy days, when the solar panels are unable to generate any energy, the students thought of adding a wind turbine that can do the job.
“When it’s cloudy, it’s usually windy, so you can still produce energy,” said Aaron Perry, a Gates County student working on the mobile energy station. This spring, Perry will be part of the first class of COA students to graduate with an Associate’s Degree in Sustainable Technology. It will be his second degree from COA. Last year, Perry also earned his Associate’s Degree in Architecture. He hopes to get a job doing drafting work for an architecture firm, following his spring graduation, but he is considering other possibilities too.
“It might take a few years for the green technology to get into our area, but the wind farm they’re talking about building in the Perquimans/Chowan area – it could also be a good opportunity for someone that has a sustainable degree or experience with wind turbines,” Perry said. “It would produce a lot of jobs for construction, to put the wind turbines up and all the infrastructure.”
Besides hauling the mobile energy station around to local schools to educate students about green technologies, Purser said he will also allow the local non-profit, Chowan/Perquimans Habitat for Humanity, to borrow the unit so it can charge the tools they use in building homes in throughout the area.
“So we’ll take it to middle schools and high schools and show them how it works,” Purser said. “And we will be able to generate some energy from it. It will be educational and it will also be functional.”
The project also involved help from students in COA’s architecture program, who spent a few days designing the mobile energy station.
Currently, the sustainable technology students are trying to figure out how to collect the water that hits the roof so it can be heated up and used so builders can wash their hands on the worksite. Purser said students also plan on having a way to collect data on how much energy is produced from the unit’s wind turbine and solar panels.
“They’re doing a lot of problem-solving and they’re having to work as team and put these things together,” Purser said.
Perry is still somewhat amazed at the transformation that the plain utility trailer has undergone in just two weeks, proud to have had a hand in its makeover.
“It was just a flat trailer,” Perry said. “And what we’re doing is building up a box with a sloped roof. On the inside, we’re using that for storage for our battery bank and the components of our solar panel system and our wind turbine will go in there. The solar panels can also be stored inside when not in use.”
“We also built parabolic solar cookers out of old satellite dishes,” Perry said, referring to the dome-shaped gadget that traps solar heat and allows users to cook with it. “The sun goes on the inner dome and it reflects the light energy into a single point and that’s what you use to cook with.”
Photo: Pictured from left to right: COA student Aaron Perry, COA instructors John Stolarczyk and Gene Williams, and COA student David Joyce.