Solar Compass Points Way to Renewable Energy

By: Dale Bass

The solar compass at Thompson Rivers University, as seen from above. BC Sustainable Energy Association photo

It may look like a compass, but the solar installation at Thompson Rivers University is designed to do more.

Ultimately, said Michael Mehta, it could point the way to integrating charging strips in roadways that could charge electric vehicles as they are being driven.

For now, however, the solar compass outside the Arts and Education Building on campus has other purposes, said Mehta, a geography and environmental-studies professor at TRU.

First, it’s to demonstrate how solar can be commonplace and not relegated to large panels on tops of buildings or out in fields. It’s also designed to show solar projects can also look good.

Mehta entered the project into the university’s sustainability grant competition. Once approved, he opted to use the existing compass design at the building, but build into it more than five dozen one-foot by two-foot solar modules, each producing 80 watts of power that ultimately should see it generate enough power per year to run about 40 computers and printers.

Just prior to the official unveiling of the compass on Thursday, with the city experiencing its first significant snowstorm of the season, Mehta kept an eye on the installation to see how people reacted walking on it. He didn’t expect to see a flurry of falls, he said, because the only real difference people might feel walking on it is the modules have a slightly different friction level than the sidewalks surrounding them.

He likened it to walking on a sidewalk and encountering a painted line or a grate. There’s a different feel underfoot, but nothing too significant.

The compass has been in place and generating energy since July, so students are likely familiar with its underfoot feel, he said.

The solar walkway is a first in Canada. The university invested about $30,000 in the project, which Mehta and other researchers will continue to monitor.

The panels were donated to the university by Solar Earth Technologies.


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