Sunflower-like solar panel under construction


Within the walls of Still Hall, a high-tech “sunflower” is being built.

While the “sunflower” lacks a flowering head and a stem, it acts similarly.

Senior technology majors Andrew Barendregt, Paul Curtis and Anthony Sarullo, along with technology professor Liping Guo, are building a sun-tracking solar panel system.

The ability to track the sun is why Guo refers to the system as a sunflower.

“A majority of solar panels in use today are stationary and therefore do not output the maximum amount of power that they can actually produce,” Guo said. “[The system we’re building] follows the sun from east to west during the day. More energy is collected by controlling the solar panel to follow the sun like a sunflower.”

Getting the solar panel to follow the sun is no easy task. The system uses a microcontroller to control a stepper motor. This makes the solar panel rotate to the direction of the sun.

“All the data for how and when the panel moves is stored in the microcontroller,” Barendregt said.

Programming the data into the microcontroller is where things get tricky. The panel acts as the brain of the system, making the system reset itself at the end of the day and keeping track of how much power is used.

Curtis said programming the microcontroller is a demanding process.

“We do have some programming experience, so we aren’t completely in the dark about it. But it’s definitely the trickier part of the project,” Curtis said.

The finished project is due by Dec. 3, but the seniors plan to have it complete by mid-November. Planning for the project began in January, and the building process began at the beginning of this semester. For Guo, it is well worth it.

“It uses renewable energy, so it is good for the environment,” Guo said. “I think it is a good project for students to practice their skills.”