UH Mānoa campus unveils new solar energy testbed

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Dave Nixon, (808) 956-7718
College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center
Steve Godmere, (808) 783-1118
Hawaii Energy Connection
Posted: Aug 31, 2009

Sustainable Saunders students with solar panels
Sustainable Saunders students with solar panels
Sustainable Saunders
Sustainable Saunders
Saunders Hall on the UH Mānoa campus served as the demonstration site today for a new renewable energy testbed featuring innovative “micro-inverter” technology. 
The “Kumu Kit” solar panel system was donated by Hawaiʻi Energy Connection, LLC to UH Mānoa for installation on the roof of Saunders Hall, home to the Sustainable Saunders Initiative—a collaborative effort among faculty and students to pursue workplace sustainability.  Other donations and logistical assistance were made possible from Enphase Energy and the UH Mānoa Sustainability Council. The small residential-sized system, which went live on August 14, will provide an opportunity for students to study the potential of solar energy and test different technologies for turning sunlight into electricity. 
“This is a small demonstration and testing site that is vital to move UH to the forefront of research and education in these fields,” said Professor David Nixon, UH Mānoa associate professor in the College of Social Sciences Public Policy Center, and director of the Sustainable Saunders Initiative. “Our vision is to make Saunders Hall the embodiment of sustainability on the Mānoa campus, and renewable energy generation is an important component.”
The first project for the testbed will evaluate micro-inverter technology that improves the efficiency of solar power arrays. The micro-inverters communicate real-time power production data from each solar panel to a central web site that archives historical data.
“We’re particularly excited about the micro-inverters, a new approach to translating the DC power from solar panels into AC power that increases efficiency of the system by 10-15 percent,” said Jeremy Kowalczyk, physics graduate student and Energy Team leader for Sustainable Saunders.
Hawaiʻi is blessed with abundant solar and wind resources that can be harvested to generate electricity. UH Mānoa has set goals of generating 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and achieving energy independence by 2050. 
Steve Godmere and Chris DeBone, owners of the Hawai‘i Energy Connection partnership, noted that this is a great opportunity to contribute to the University’s educational and research efforts in sustainability. “Micro-inverters are an important innovation in turning sun power into electricity-they’re less expensive, more convenient, and more efficient than traditional power inverters.”
The Public Policy Center, its UH partners, and the Sustainable Saunders students will be assessing the performance and cost structure of the PV array with its micro-inverters, along with installation possibilities and barriers. For more information, visit: www.publicpolicycenter.hawaii.edu/solaronsaunders.html.