Solar Laboratory

The project was proposed to FPL in the early 2000’s at the initiative of Dr. Alberto J. Varela, retired Associate Professor in the School of Science, Technology and Health. Dr. Varela created a Solar Station at STU as a hands-on teaching tool for the students in his physics classes. The Solar Station demonstrated the value of solar energy as a renewable energy source that does not create pollution. Dr. Varela stated, “The six photovoltaic panels installed on campus are sufficient to provide 50% of electricity for a medium sized home.” From 2002 to 2008, the Solar Station produced, on average, 410 KWh a month.

We also use this installation as an educational tool for both students and members of the community, teaching the values of solar energy.

STU is looking to expand this project, studying not only the PV system’s performance, but hydrogen technologies and fuel fells as well. In fact a fuel cell stack is up and running at the university’s main campus with a capacity of 1.2KW. The object of this new project is to use part of the electricity generated by de PV System to produce hydrogen from water through electrolysis.

As you enter campus along Emilia F. Diaz Drive, you will see a small building on your left before you reach the main building. The Physical Plant department built this structure to support the PV panels on its roof and to house the power inverter, battery bank, hydrogen generator, and fuel cell stacks.

Continued growth in this arena is expected, with the emphasis on improving our science labs and focusing on future challenges posed by the global energy crisis. We are interested in developing a permanent Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology program at STU in order to adequately prepare our students for this new challenge.

Solar energy is currently being used to produce electricity; we are now using part of this electricity to produce hydrogen via electrolysis. This hydrogen can be safely stored for future applications as a fuel, in particular to produce electricity via a PEM Fuel Cell.

This new system will provide our students with tremendous possibilities for new experiments in the areas of Physics and Chemistry.

The adoption and use of PV systems and hydrogen technologies are important due to the following:
Fossil fuels are coal, petroleum and natural gas. They are not renewable, once burnt they are gone forever.

In this context, two problems are paramount: one problem is the how long these fuels will be available. At today’s consumption rate, petroleum, our most important fuel, will only last for another 40 to 50 years. The other problem is the pollution caused by burning fossil fuels.

If the prognosticated increase in energy demand is to be met by fossil fuels then the world-wide emissions of greenhouse gases will have doubled by 2030.

The sun could be part of the solution to all energy supply problems – now and in the future. The sun radiates many times more energy down to earth than we require every day, without emissions and completely free. New ways of using this energy must be found, resulting in a world energy supply only based on renewable resources.

One of the problems that accompany all renewable energy is storage. Even for mobile and portable applications an “energy carrier” is needed to use the solar energy as a fuel for homes, cars, or in an aircraft. The “energy carrier”, in the case of renewable energy, could be hydrogen. Hydrogen can store energy in the same form that oil or natural gas is stored today. Hydrogen can also be burned in conventional engines, in the same way that gasoline and natural gas is burned.

Hydrogen can also be used to generate electricity via fuel cell stacks. The use of fuel cells has some decisive advantages: there is only water emitted from the exhaust; it operates without noise and without vibrations; and it is more efficient than a combustion engine – so it saves energy.