UC Merced is revolutionizing solar power industry


About thirty UC Merced students and a professor have worked on the project over the past two years. They say the technology they've developed makes solar energy more efficient and less expensive.

This solar panel system tucked away at UC Merced's facility at Castle Air Force Base near Atwater is truly one of a kind.

Prof. Roland Winston said, "You can go anywhere else on this planet, the whole planet, you'll not find another one of these."

UC Merced Professor Roland Winston says what sets these panels apart is that they're stationary. Usually solar collectors of this type have to move and track the sun, like the ones installed on the UC Merced campus. But the tracking equipment is often complex and expensive.

Prof. Roland Winston said, "By removing that obstacle, we make solar energy a lot more practical, a lot more affordable."

These panels also feature a unique design that allows them to collect enough heat to provide power even on hazy days. Professor Winston says some experts were skeptical, so he and his students built this system to prove it works.

The sunlight they collect runs the air conditioning unit that cools this trailer.

Christopher Thomas said, "I like to tell people I'm saving the world one day at a time, and part of that is getting through this energy crisis we're facing here."

Other former students and colleagues involved in the project have already formed two companies, which are manufacturing the panels in California and installing them around the world.

Ron Durbin, UC Solar Dir. of Development said, "Part of the university's mission is public service, and that includes things like introducing new technologies, solving problems, and up to and including creating ideas that can be commercialized and in turn create jobs for people of California."

And that's exactly what these innovative students are doing.

The researchers say right now the technology is best for businesses, but it could be used for certain homes.

As for funding the project, grant money paid for the research itself, and an anonymous donor covered the cost of the demonstration model out at Castle Air Force Base.

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