UTM takes historic green step with solar garden

In light of a donation made by an anonymous patron, faculty and students from the art and engineering departments have teamed up to make solar structures as part of a “solar garden” outside of the Paul Meek Library.

The garden will include two solar flowers and a tree to produce energy for part of Crisp Hall and will also serve as a charging station and lounging area for students.

Once finished, the tree will stand over 12 feet tall and consist of 24 solar panels with 8 ft tall flowers made of eight panels. All the structures will include a GPS tracking system to keep sight of the sun.

Custom metal fabrication company, Waymatic, located in South Fulton, Tennessee, will manufacture the treetop’s aluminum ornamental leaves.

“I am excited as this is a project by our students in the sciences and art, a great collaboration demonstrating the importance of both to our students’ education,” said Dr.Robert Smith, Interim Chancellor. “I also find the tree to be an iconic metaphor with classical meanings of the roots holding firm on the ground representing the value of being grounded while the branches reach to the skies representing aspirations and dreams.”

The collaboration began at the end of September and department leaders are Sarah Haig, Graphic Design assistant professor and Dr. J. Douglas Sterrett, professor of Engineering.

Sterrett was contacted by Smith due to his past experiences with solar, including a solar powered freezer project for developing countries to store their food. He oversees day to day activities, manages the contractors and selected the building company, Solar & Renewable Power Systems, who he has worked with in the past.

The company is based in Jackson, Tennessee and is the only licensed group to complete this variety of projects in West Tennessee. The UTM tree marks their first solar panel tiered structure.

“It (solar energy) is absolutely the future,” said Eddie Parimore, Director of Sales for Solar & Renewable Power Systems. “…It has been the fastest growing industry amongst anything including medical.”

Sterrett also selected six engineering students to work on the structures as their senior project.  Jared Miller, Zachary Dysinger, Ty Roberts, Cory Oliver, Brice White and Joseph Sipes have contributed to the structural design and have done hands on work such as assembling the solar panel array, mounting the aluminum racking and mounting and wiring the power inverters.

“It’s been good to actually see how a project actually gets constructed versus just designing it like we’ve been doing in class,” said Roberts. “We’ve just been designing everything and now we get to see it materialize and work hands on.”

The team spends every moment that they are not in class working on the site until the contracting crew leaves, anywhere from 7-8 p.m.

The art department has simultaneously been working on part of the project.

Haig’s team was responsible for the actual design concept and pitched approximately four designs to Smith and the engineering crew before Thanksgiving break. The flowers and tree were initially two separate designs, but liked so much that they were combined.

“The whole point was for it to be functional for the students,” said Victoria Falcon, junior Management major and participant.

The rest of the students selected by Haig have worked on large scale projects and include senior Graphic Design majors Ethan Applebee and Thomas Kendall and junior Fine & Performing Arts major Franklin Hawks.

They have met every Tuesday and Thursday from 6-9 p.m. since the beginning of the semester.

In addition to coming up with a design, the art group has been creating a trunk-like piece of art to be added to the tree.

This is made using layers of recycled paper coated in resin. The paper has been taken from the recycling center and shredded. It was then put in a blender to turn into a pulp and a new sheet of paper was formed after the pulp was floated in water and strained. Afterwards, it was laid on a mold sculpted from insulation foam boards to dry.  Once three pieces were made per side, they were patched together.  The seating area will be similarly decorated.

“I know there’s a chance eventually that my kids might come to school over here and then it would be neat,” said Hawks, who sought out Waymatic as a company participant.

“It feels good to actually leave a mark on UTM,” said Roberts similarly. “[I’m] graduating [and] to know that it’s something that I can come back and see because I don’t think it’s going to be going anywhere any time soon. My kids will see it, my brother will see it when he comes to school, my parents will see it when they’re on campus.”

Though behind schedule due to inclement weather, the project is said to be completed before the semester has ended.


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