Student Project to Spark Conversation About Solar Energy

The NC State Stewards student leadership program is transforming a part of Gardner Arboretum to become a hub for students to learn about solar power. The site will be the new home to SolarSpace, an interactive example of renewable energy at work. 

SolarSpace is going to be a solar-powered outdoor space for students and community members to relax and socialize. Features include a seating area, cup holders, charging stations and bike racks. The Stewards want to provide a learning opportunity to visitors with digital graphics explaining how renewable energy can become an active part of their daily lives. 

The idea came to the Stewards when they received five solar panels from NC State’s SolarPack. These panels will produce about 1000 watts of energy when installed. The Stewards plan to display the amount of energy produced on digital screens in SolarSpace and show how many electronics have been charged using solar-energy. 

“We really want [SolarSpace] to be a place where the campus community can interact with and learn about renewable energy,” said Anthony Medieros, a Steward and business administration major. “It’s more than them just using solar energy; they can engage with it.”

One of the project’s challenges was selecting a viable space on campus to install the solar panels. “We were happy when we found this place in the arboretum because it meant we didn’t have to construct a whole new structure on campus. We could just transform an existing place to make it even more sustainable,” said Madeline Samet, a Steward who is majoring in sustainable materials and technology.

The Stewards have received campus-wide support for SolarSpace. They were awarded a total of $29,700 from several grants including  the Stewards Impact Grant, the College of Natural Resources Enrichment Fund and the NC State Sustainability Fund

“This is a space by students, for students,” said Martina Gonzalez Bertello, an environmental technology major who is also the Stewards student coordinator. “We’re planning on working with students in the College of Design to help us establish a blueprint.” 

Although COVID-19 has caused project delays, the Stewards plan on completing the project during the 2021 spring semester. “Once it’s complete, [SolarSpace] will be a token of sustainability for NC State,” said Emily Applegate, a Steward majoring in electrical engineering.