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Pomona's Mobile Solar Energy Station, SolTrain, Wins Award

Samantha Myer '10; Prof. David Tanenbaum; Adam Kotkin '09; and Juan Araya, farm manager with the SolTrain

Samantha Myer '10; Prof. David Tanenbaum; Adam Kotkin '09; and Juan Araya, farm manager with the SolTrain

Pomona College’s SolTrain, a mobile solar energy station, won the Excellence in Innovations for Sustainability from the Association of American College Unions International (ACUI), during their annual meeting in Chicago earlier last month. According to the organization’s news release, “This award recognizes those who are helping solve environmental challenges by using innovative and environmentally sustainable practices.

SolTrain was developed in a collaborative effort between students, faculty and staff to provide a power source for needs such as amplification and lighting for events in remote campus locations, while fulfilling the educations mission of teaching others about sustainability and natural power generation.  It consists of three photovoltaic solar panels adding up to 1kW of electric power. The panels, an inverter, charge controller and six batteries are mounted on a wheeled trailer which can be hitched to a vehicle and transported to campus locations to provide electricity for sound amplification, lighting or other uses.

Samantha Meyer ’10, currently the sustainability and purchasing coordinator for Pomona’s Dining Services, helped build SolTrain. “It was really rewarding learning the whole process of how solar energy went from panel to plug. When I started working on the project, I knew very little about solar panels worked. Once we built the cart, we had all of the other parts but no directions. So we went to the Physics Department, and David Tanenbaum [professor of physics] helped us put it all together. He consulted and we got it working. It was pretty awesome. We used it a lot my senior year to power a PEAR [Pomona for Environmental Activism and Responsibility] party and other events.”

According to Associate Dean of Students Neil Gerard, “What makes SolTrain special is that not only did it fill a need but it provided and continues to provide real-world education on campus. The first group of students involved learned about budgeting, funding processes and committee work. A second group served as the construction crew and learned valuable skills in building, engineering, problem-solving and teamwork. Now each time SolTrain is used, it has signage and information about how it works, how it saves energy and resources, which has reinforced the work of the President’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability.”

Since its debut in September 2009, SolTrain has powered: parties with lights, sound systems and amplified instruments; an audio-visual exhibit in an art gallery; and lights at a student-run fashion show. On a frequent basis, it powers laptops, cell phone chargers and the occasional cooking device. When fully charged SolTrain can power a medium-sized sound system for about four to six hours.

In addition to the remote locations originally envisioned, users have deployed SolTrain at the Smith Campus Center and residence halls to enhance its educational value. The project was funded by the President’s Fund for Sustainable Innovation.