Grant funds energy needs, education at community center

Dr. Ranjeet Agarwala (top left) and students at the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Center test solar panels and a portable power station. (Photos by Erik Panarusky)

Dr. Ranjeet Agarwala (top left) and students at the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Center test solar panels and a portable power station. (Photos by Erik Panarusky)

The Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Community Center will soon have some help with its electrical needs thanks to the sun, students and faculty in the East Carolina University College of Engineering and Technology, and a Constellation E2 Energy to Educate grant.

CET students partnered with the center to study its needs, equipment, appliances and layout, then conducted an energy audit to calculate the total energy consumption and the rate of energy consumption on a daily and monthly basis, said Dr. Ranjeet Agarwala, assistant professor in the Department of Technology Systems.

“We had originally talked about putting solar panels on the roof,” Agarwala said, but based on the center’s needs, a more portable and adaptable system was chosen.

The $37,500 grant funded the purchase of 18 100-watt solar panels and nine portable power stations. Each power station can be charged from the solar panels and can provide power for anything from charging a cell phone to running a refrigerator.

Deborah Moody, director of LGCC, said the center’s campus includes six buildings, so the flexibility of the portable systems made perfect sense.

“We wanted it to be simple and never have an excuse not to use it,” she said.

The panels and power packs can be used during outdoor events, instead of running extension cords everywhere. They will also allow the center to function during power outages.

“Last year when we had the hurricane, we still had to come in because the community still has needs,” Moody said. “But we didn’t have any power in the building. So this would allow us to charge our laptops and go to work like we usually do.”

Agarwala shows students at the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Center how the unit can power a computer.

Agarwala shows students at the Lucille Gorham Intergenerational Center how the unit can power a computer.

 

In addition to offsetting daily energy consumption needs, powering events and emergency use, there’s an educational component. The center has STEM-based after-school and summer programs, and the students will be able to learn about topics ranging from energy conservation to converting units of power.

Each power station has multiple AC and DC outlets, as well as a digital display showing energy input and usage. The panels and the power stations can be connected in different combinations depending on specific energy needs.

During a demonstration of the equipment, the students were able to see how much energy was being generated by the solar panels and the impact of shadows, as well as the amount of energy drawn by a charging cell phone.

“It’s exciting to watch the kids light up,” Moody said. “We want to get them excited and interested in these fields to prime them and train them, and then have them grow up and contribute to the community.

“We also want the youth to help us think of other ways to use these to help save energy. And then they’ll become advocates at home with their parents, and tell them, ‘These are things we can do to save energy in the house.’”

The LGCC opened in 2007 and is operated through a partnership between ECU, the City of Greenville and Pitt Community College. Constellation’s E2 Energy to Educate grants fund student projects focusing on energy science, technology and education.

The solar panels and power stations, funded by an E2 Energy to Educate grant from Constellation, will be used for events, emergency power and daily energy needs at the center.

The solar panels and power stations, funded by an E2 Energy to Educate grant from Constellation, will be used for events, emergency power and daily energy needs at the center.

 

By Jules Norwood