A prototype for a solar and wind power station that fits within a shipping container has placed a group of students from Princeton University among the winners of a national EPA-sponsored sustainable design competition. The Princeton students’ entry in the P3 Student Design Competition is a “rapidly deployable renewable energy system” for areas hit by disasters such as the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010 and left large areas without infrastructure.
The Princeton students’ solar and wind system contains a 40-foot-tall “10 kW wind turbine, solar panels, batteries for energy storage, and the circuitry and mechanical systems necessary to erect and harvest energy from the hybrid system all packed into a standard shipping container for efficient deployment.” Their intent is to create a system capable of improving conditions in relief camps in disaster zones, eliminating the need for pollutant-emitting, hazardous diesel-powered generators.
The design team transported their shipping container system on a flatbed truck from Princeton to Washington DC for the competition, where variable weather showcased the design’s range. “On the first day of the competition, the weather was sunny and still, so the solar panels were the prime source of power. The next day the weather turned windy and rainy, forcing the other competitors inside and raising doubts among some observers that the Princeton team members could raise their tower,” but as they did so with ease and smoothly generated power on both days, the students “really impressed the judges” explained project adviser, Catherine Peters, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Princeton. With a $90,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the students will now work to further develop the prototype to create a more powerful version, and plan to take the advanced model on a tour of Africa.
Students from 165 academic institutions submitted proposals to the competition, of which 15 were honored with awards for pursuing sustainable design solutions to issues ranging from erosion control to a seeking out a biodegradable alternative to plastics. A particularly curious proposal from a team of students at Vanderbilt University aims to design a “biohybrid solar panel that substitutes a protein from spinach for rare metals (mined), and is capable of producing electrical energy.”