Kids Today

We’ve got a great post today based on Friday’s story by Jeff Zimmerman, Teen’s Invention Boots Solar Panel Output 40 Percent, published on Grist.org. 

Nineteen-year-old Princeton mechanical engineering student, Eden Full, is letting her passion interfere with her classes. Thanks to the $10,000 received from 2011 EcoLiving Student Leadership award, Eden put college on hold to finish her invention, the SunSaluter, a device that uses the sun’s power to collect the sun’s power.

Eden’s design uses a selection of metals with different expansion rates instead of a mechanical motor. As the metals are heated by the sun, the different expansion rates move the solar panel in a way that optimizes direct exposure to the sun. Her design is so efficient that it takes 40 percent fewer solar panels to produce the same amount of energy.

The SunSaluter is not the first sun-tracking device ever made, but it may be the cheapest. Instead of the multiple hundreds of dollars required to buy a more complex externally powered solar panel requiring electricity and lots of moving parts, her elegant self-powered design costs the equivalent of two fast food combo meals. The SunSaluter can be maintained by kids in developing communities with no access to power, which is one of Eden’s goals.

In the short Vimeo video, Eden describes her design and her desires for putting it put into service in developing countries.  

Her parents instilled a sense of environmental responsibility when Eden was a kid. A visit to the Canadian Arctic a few years ago deeply affected her. “This was an emotional moment for me when I realised that I had a chance to help prevent this problem from getting worse,” she said. “I would have to help with the reduction of CO2 emissions.”

The United States Department of Energy (DOE) believes that the talent and passion found in Eden Full is not an anomaly, and that college students from around the world can create amazing things if given an opportunity. The DOE started the Solar Decathlon a few years ago, and it has quickly become a popular annual competition for many teams of college engineering and architecture students.

The Solar Decathlon consists of a series of ten challenges taking place over a two-year period. All the winning college team needs to do is design and build the best solar home possible. It must be affordable, attractive, functional, comfortable and healthy. The solar home must supply sufficient energy for personal use, cooking, cleaning, and entertainment. The design must produce at least as much energy as it consumes. That’s all.

The same passion found in Eden Full’s solo design can found in many of the world’s college students as they compete to make a better world through solar energy. This year’s Solar Decathlon competition showcases young talent representing the United States, Canada, Belgium, New Zealand, and China.

The 2011 Solar Decathlon is at the National Mall, West Potomac Park, Washington D.C. from now until October 2, 2011, or you can read and see more at the DOE Solar Decathlon website. Check out the renewable energy designs and the designers of our future!