Solar umbrellas spark a charge at picnic tables

Each new umbrella will offer three USB ports to charge electronics

Twelve Powersol solar umbrellas will soon be installed in picnic tables across campus. The umbrellas have solar panels on the top that power a charging station on the table with three USB ports.

This project was sponsored by student government’s Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee and directed by junior Charlie Egan.

“This project came about because we wanted to have something that was like an educational interaction for students on campus,” Egan said.

“You can put these umbrellas in any existing picnic table and it has a little hub so you can plug up to three phones into it at once. Electricity generated from the panels is being stored in a battery hub charger so people can sit outside and charge their phones.”

The umbrellas, which cost $1,275 each, are produced by a company called ZON Technology. The project was paid for by a student fee.

“Unlike a lot of organizations on campus, we actually have money to invest in projects that we want to do. It’s not like we just have the ideas — most people can have the ideas but they don’t happen — we have the ideas and we can make them happen,” Egan said.

Egan said the project involved many campus partners, including Information Technology Services, Carolina Dining Services, the Residence Hall Association and the Student Union.

ITS spokeswoman Kate Hash praised the efforts of the Renewable Energy Special Projects Committee.

“What’s wonderful about this project (is) that it was a bit serendipitous that our CIO Chris Kielt saw the solar umbrellas at a conference and just a few weeks later an inquiry came from Charlie and RESPC. It was a natural fit for everyone and we’re honored to be a small part of the project,” Hash said in an email.

“ITS is happy to get involved in projects like this that allow technology to be used in such a fun way.”

Sophomore Tate Shanahan serves as director of social projects for the Residence Hall Association.

“The reason that RHA was interested is that one of our main goals is to improve the quality of on-campus residential life,” Shanahan said.

Egan said placing the umbrellas in the Pit and elsewhere on campus will help raise students’ awareness about sustainability efforts.

“Energy is very intangible. You can’t touch electricity, but these umbrellas will let students physically interact with solar energy on a daily basis,” Shanahan said.

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