Students Get Sustainable with Solar Chargers

Drew Kaplan ’20, Associate Opinion Editor

The Sustain IT workshop series held another event on Thursday, April 13th, to help students build their own solar powered USB charger. The event was cohosted by professor of physics Hans Pfister, assistant director of the Center for Sustainability Education Lindsey Lyons and Alexander Haver ’20. Over 40 students attended the event, quickly exhausting the supply of materials.

Pfister explainined the physics behind electricity and how solar panels are able to convert photons into usable electricity claiming the importance of the event was to “stress the use of solar energy [and] to familiarize students with photovoltaic modules.”

“Once you have worked with a little module,” Pfister continued, “you aren’t afraid of it anymore. First, the necessity that we should be using renewable energy sources, such as solar, and wind. Second, familiarizing students with photovoltaic panels and solar modules. Third, empowering you to actually build something with a photovoltaic panel.”

He also explained the structure of solar panels; mostly silicon but with small amounts of both boron and phosphorus as well.  When light strikes them, they disrupt the electrons. It is this movement that generates electricity.

Pfister explained that the chargers would produce 7.2 volts in direct sunlight, more than enough to charge a cellphone. The chargers actually needed a component to reduce voltage output to avoid damaging whatever device was to be plugged in. Some students had trouble soldering in these components of their chargers, and some were not able to finish the project in the seventy-five minutes set aside for the workshop. Unfinished chargers were completed by Haver.

Student reception to the event was positive. Albert Westfall ’18 said, “I think it’s pretty cool to see everyone working together with the faculty to make a really cool project.”

Natura Sant Foster ’20 commented that she “really didn’t know what to expect when I came in, but I really enjoyed the presentation. The professor [Pfister] was so enthusiastic, and that made it exciting. It is certainly something I have never done before, but it’s always fun to learn a new skill.  I’m hoping this will work out so that I can use my solar charger outside.”

Pfister hosts renewable energy and energy efficiency sustainability workshops on Saturday mornings separately from the Sustain IT series and teaches two courses on renewable energy in the physics department.