Students at Green Mountain College recently completed a
solar-powered garage that demonstrates an integrative design to
optimize the performance of electric vehicles in cold weather
climates like Vermont.
Twenty-one students in the College's Renewable Energy and
Ecological Design (REED) block course last semester were charged
with creating a charging station to house an electric vehicle for
use by the school's working farm and the REED program. To that end,
students built a garage featuring a 16 panel 3.86-kilowatt solar
array and a fiberglass passive solar south-facing wall suitable for
early-season germination of crops for the College's farm. They
named the new structure Olwen Solar Garage, after the Welsh goddess
of the sun.
"It's clear that oil is becoming increasingly expensive and that
carbon based nonrenewable fuels are contributing to climate
destabilization. This project will demonstrate that solar energy
can be a less expensive and renewable fuel for cars," said
associate professor of economics and environmental studies Dr.
Steven Letendre, an energy expert and one of the course
instructors. "In addition, cars that are connected to the grid can
themselves become energy storage devices, potentially earning money
for the owner."
The building is a mini power plant which consumes the power it
produces while providing a platform for sustainable food
production. Inside, the building is spacious and bright, with large
a large multifunctional solar wall that provides heat, light, and
shelving for food production.
"Aesthetics were an important consideration in the design," said
Courtney Heverly, a student who completed the course. "We feel like
we've created a structure that's interesting on its own terms, but
which also provides a meaningful function-powering a vehicle that
can rely on its own energy source instead of being dependent on the
power grid like most electric cars."
After an exhaustive collaborative design process, the class
broke ground on Sept. 27, 2012.
Students worked closely with contractor mentors in the solar
energy and design/build fields and did most of the labor
themselves. "The building was designed and constructed in one
semester," said Lucas Brown, assistant professor of environmental
studies and the lead design-build instructor.
GMC received a $50,000 grant from Constellation Energy's "E2
Energy to Educate" program to build Olwen. The project was led by
Brown, who has extensive experience in the sustainable design
field, and Dr. Letendre, who has significant research experience in
integrating battery and hybrid electric vehicles with the utility
grid. The company's E2 grants support hands-on demonstration
projects that enhance student understanding of science and
technology needed to address energy issues.
"The cold weather in our region tends to make plug-in cars less
efficient," said Brown. "We think this is a way to make plug-in
technology more viable in our latitude. It is also unique because
we included building integrated agriculture in the design."