Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Walking around Swarthmore, many students have noticed a new addition to Mertz–a small solar panel dangling out of one of the dorm’s windows. The Gazette just caught up with Lauren Goodfriend, the junior who installed the device.
DG: Why have a solar panel?
LG: The honest reason is because I saw these MIT freshman who wired their dorm room. They had a party button. They had surveillance. They had powered blinds. They had a finger-print-scanner for a lock. And I said to myself, “I am a nerdy engineer. I want to do something cool…that has a point.” So I tried to think of something that doesn’t waste resources and would be totally awesome. And so I decided to generate my own power, and the best way was a solar panel.
DG: Did you look into other possibilities?
LG: I looked into wind power and tried to discover if it would be feasible to put a turbine outside. And it is not, at all. It would be a flat-out bad idea.
DG: So what made you think of hanging the panel out your window?
LG: That seemed the most obvious way with minimum damage to the building. I originally planned to create a bracket that went through the window and which would be flush against the wall, but when I mentioned it to Facilities they agreed to screw a bracket into the wall.
DG: Now that it is installed, what do you manage to power with it?
LG: I power my computer and two lights.
DG: Have you run out of energy?
LG: I do when there is a string of cloudy days, but then I just plug my devices into the wall.
DG: So how does it work?
LG: The panel charges a battery bank, and I have an inverter hooked up that coverts DC to AC. The inverter has two outlets, and I plug a power strip into one of them.
DG: Do you plan to use your panel in future years?
LG: It depends on the dorm, but I hope so. Mertz, Parrish, and Wharton all have half-way decent southern exposure, but of course I’d need permission.
DG: Would you recommend it?
LG: I’m not sure how keen facilities would be for mounting lots of solar panels. It doesn’t save me any money, and it would be interesting to do an analysis of net energy gain from the panel–it took a lot of energy to produce and ship it, and since I bring the wire in through the window, I lose some heat.
DG: Where did you get the panel?
LG: From the interwebs. Sadly, it was a bad time to buy solar panels since there was a shortage of silicon…and I don’t see the market getting much better.
If you want to power your own room, check out http://www.affordablesolar.com