Tufts Energy Conference hosts solar energy competition

The Tufts Energy Conference (TEC) is hosting a new solar energy competition this year, in addition to its annual TEC energy competition.

The solar competition aims to encourage students to design a photovoltaic (PV) solar technology project that will operate without a connection to Tufts electric grid, according to TEC Competition Director Anna McCallie. She said that the winning project will hopefully be constructed on the Tufts campus before the end of the year.

“It will be a visible reminder that Tufts is really committed to solar energy,” McCallie, a first-year student at The Fletcher School, said.

Applications for the competitions opened in November and are due on Monday, Feb. 24, according to McCallie. She said that groups of both undergraduate and graduate students can apply for the chance to win up to $10,000 to implement their solar energy project. Judges will select one finalist who will be announced during the conference, which will take place on March 8 and 9.

The money for the winning design comes from SunBug Solar, a solar energy consulting and installation company located in Massachusetts, according to Jared Alvord, the Tufts contact at SunBug. The company is currently working with Tufts to install solar panels on Dowling Hall as part of the Solarize Massachusetts Medford program run by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

“The way the program works is there are five tiers,” Alvord said. “So when more people sign up everyone gets better pricing. Tufts is actually the project that got us to tier five and got everyone in the whole city the best pricing possible.”

TEC’s solar competition was designed to run parallel with the Dowling Hall installation, which will begin next week and finish by mid- to late-March, according to Alvord.

Because the Dowling Hall installation will not be particularly visible to the Tufts community, the winning design from the solar competition will bring attention to Tufts’ use of solar energy, McCallie said.

“If they just put the panels on Dowling Hall and they weren’t visible, they could go completely unnoticed,” she said. “I think it is a really good thing to bring attention to the fact that they are taking this big step toward lessening energy dependence and moving more of the energy use on this campus toward renewable sources.”

According to McCallie, TEC will also host its annual energy competition, which also has a Feb. 24 application deadline. The winning group will receive $3,000 and the runner-up will receive $2,000 to put toward their proposals.

“[The energy competition] is much more broad, and it is for any sort of innovative energy solutions,” she said. “Projects in the past have been focused on more efficient sanitation or building a better battery. Basically, for any energy challenges you can think of, people are trying to come up with innovative solutions.”

Since the proposal from the solar competition will be implemented on campus, one of the benefits of the solar competition, as opposed to the energy competition, is opportunity to achieve a tangible result, McCallie said. 

“For the energy competition, a lot of times the projects focus on other parts of the world, so the results are a little less visible and maybe even [less] tangible,” she said.

Kathy Nolan, the director of TEC, explained that both competitions provide an additional way for students to get involved with the conference.

“The goal is really to get Tufts students involved with the Tufts Energy Conference,” Nolan, a second-year Fletcher School student, said. “We want to reward students who are interested in energy and have a good idea.”

According to Nolan, the finalists in the energy competition will have a chance to present and receive feedback on their proposals at the conference prior to final voting.

“I see it as a fun way for people at the conference, who are all experts in their own right on different areas of energy, to get involved with and see what students at Tufts are doing,” she said. “It is a way to highlight student work in front of a really great audience of people.”

While Alvord and Nolan are not sure whether the solar competition will continue in future years, Alvord believes there will be more opportunities for implementing solar panels at Tufts, he said. He said that the old gymnasium roof is a perfect opportunity.

“Tufts uses a ton of energy,” he said. “I know that Tufts is doing a lot of energy efficiency, sustainability and renewable energy, and all of it helps. But with the solar portion, the hope is that they will do much more. This is something to spark your thoughts with moving forward with more solar.”