Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Solar-Powered Table That Encourages Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration on Campus

Sure, George Washington University may be home to the world's first walkable, solar-paneled sidewalk, but did you know that the school also lays host to a solar table? A student-created product, the green personal workspace can fuel the equivalent of eight laptops for just about seven days. It's also capable of providing enough energy to power large events on the quad, like a campus-wide movie on the lawn or a Saturday night concert.

At first glance, the solar-powered table looks like the perfect place to spread your papers out in order to study for that midterm right around the corner. You'd never guess that the tabletop itself is capable of converting solar power into alternating current, or AC power, and the base of the contraption houses all of the necessary components to make the product function seamlessly. But that's the whole point, according to brains behind the solar table, Ben Pryde.

The six-foot-long table is made up of a combination of marine-grade plywood and aluminum that's waterproof, with the tabletop consisting of plywood and a 280-watt solar panel protected by a plexiglass cover. It contains eight 120-volt outlets, all of which can be plugged into safely.

You don't need to be an engineering student in order to understand how the solar table works. It uses a simple process of energy conversion where sunlight is absorbed through the solar panel tabletop and up to 280 watts of direct current is then sent through the charge controller. It's the charge controller that holds six deep-cycle batteries responsible for storing energy.

The energy is then transformed into AC energy in the 3,500-watt inverter, AC energy that then powers stereos, projectors, or just simply charges phones via the outlets surrounding the solar table's edges.

Pryde – a sophomore at GW and Student Association Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Senator – came up with the idea in high school, originally for more of an educational purpose. Working with one of his friends, the duo developed a box with a solar panel on top that could be angled. Together they used their prototype to teach lessons about solar energy to K-12 students about the technology involved in activating their contraption.

When Pryde arrived at GW, he decided to pivot slightly, interested in adapting his device to be used more for recreational use rather than for academia. So he set off to make a more structurally robust version of his high school concept. Pryde has been highly successful in creating his dream product too, for he has had help from many members of the GW community.

"I wrote my first proposal for GW in October of last year and then started meeting with administrators and the Student Association," Pryde explained over the phone. He outlined the importance of the solar table and how it could increase awareness about sustainability, innovation, and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Pryde also touched on how the solar table had the potential to improve student space and make the GW experience that much better.

His proposal received rave reviews and by the time April approached, Pryde had received three-quarters of the funding needed to propel his project from idea to prototype. The university offered him $2,500, the Student Association paid $1,250 and the Residence Hall Association doled out $1,250 as well. With his finances in order, Pryde got the green light from GW, ordered the necessary supplies over the summer and began hacking away at the solar table.

Pryde wasn't the only one responsible for the creation of the solar table, though. He described it as a joint effort, for he attracted a vast variety of individuals to work on the green technology, all people with unique backgrounds and fields of expertise.

"There were lots of different people working on it [the solar table] – several student organizations, engineers to psych majors and everything in between. It was just a conglomerate of various people who were interested in different aspects of the solar table and wanted to see the project through."

Currently the solar table is located in GW's sustainability square (Square 80 Plaza) and used quite frequently by student clubs for events held on campus.

Clearly there's no shortage of innovative students on GW's campus.


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