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  • Engineering a Sustainable Future: Four UW-Madison Students Repair and Upgrade Solar Heating at the Farley Center | Community

Engineering a Sustainable Future: Four UW-Madison Students Repair and Upgrade Solar Heating at the Farley Center | Community

By on May 2, 2022 0

40-year-old technology got a makeover at the Farley Center for Peace, Justice and Sustainability thanks to the handiwork and ingenuity of four students.

Noah Argus, Macauly Donohue, Callan Hanley, and Noah Lawinger are all seniors in the mechanical engineering program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Like all seniors in this program, they worked on a year-long design project.

Each year, local partners and organizations submit requests for projects to be carried out by students.

This year, the approximately 150 engineering students were given a list of around 30 projects to choose from, which they ranked in order of preference and were finally assigned to a project in small groups.

The director of the Farley Center, Shedd Farley, submitted a request for a solar thermal heating network to be repaired by the mechanically-minded students.

The quartet of rookie engineers – who later called themselves the Bright Badgers – didn’t know each other outside of class until they were randomly paired to work together, but all four chose the project because of their interest in renewable and sustainable energies. energy.

“We were all interested in sustainability, so logically we chose this type of project,” Hanley said.

The network was not operational when they started working on it last fall. It had been installed on the property in the 1980s by Gene Farley, Shedd’s father. The group not only repaired the network to make it operational again, but also improved it to be more efficient.

The network heats the house at 2299 Spring Rose Road, which is also one of the center’s main meeting spaces. It was working until about 10 years ago.

As it is supplemented with propane heat, the group wanted to make it as efficient as possible in order to reduce the amount of propane used.

Unlike a photovoltaic generator, which is used to produce electricity, solar thermal generators are used for heating domestic premises, such as producing hot water for showers.

While it can’t fully meet their home’s heating needs, the Farleys’ home won’t need as much propane now with the help of the grid, Lawinger told reporters.

The way it works is when the sun hits an insulated set of glass panels, the pipelines that carry the fluids are heated by the sun, and that gets transferred into the home’s heating system, Lawinger said.

While it’s easy to explain how it works now, when the smart young men started the project last semester, they spent most of their time figuring out how it worked.

The company that built the bay in the 1980s had since gone out of business and the boys couldn’t find plans for it online. Using computer software called System Advisor Model – which is used to model photovoltaic systems, wind turbines and biomass systems – they modeled the grid.

They determined if the system worked, how it would work, how much energy it would produce, and calculated how much money would be saved by not using propane, Hanley said.

The system itself was deteriorating on the inside, from the pipe insulation that was falling apart in their fingers to the wires that were corroded – so the group had to figure out which components were no longer working.

“Identifying the main points of failure was the biggest challenge,” Lawinger said. “You can replace everything for $10,000 or just the essentials.”

The university invested about $400 in the project, and the Farley Center paid about $700 for equipment.

The group visited the center four times last semester. This semester, they are still going out for about three to four hours at a time. But they are in the finishing phase of the project, having replaced the pumps, the fluids and the photovoltaic panel.

They will complete the project on Friday April 29 with the installation of a power switch. Next week the group will write a final report and give a presentation at a symposium, where they will also have a booth with a poster.

The project required them to have three meetings a week – once with their consulting professor, once with their teaching assistant, then half an hour as a team to write weekly progress reports.

bright future

Hanley said he has always had an interest in sustainability and nature, which led him into the solar engineering and renewable energy business.

“I find that to be much more meaningful than other paths you can take with mechanical engineering,” Lawinger said. “Renewable energies are the future. I think we need to move away from fossil fuels – that’s one of the things that really motivated me.

Macauly was drawn to this particular project because he had previously worked for Engineers Without Borders, building a solar panel for a children’s shelter in Puerto Rico.

“Beyond making a difference in the community and putting what I learned in the classroom into the community to actually help someone, the most rewarding part of this experience was the project management side,” said Macauly said. “It was my first experience managing a project where we had to figure out where we were going to get equipment, make sure the equipment showed up on time, on schedule – it was invaluable to learn how to working with people under strict deadlines so as not to upset or disappoint people.

Since the foursome couldn’t be at the Farley Center at all times, Shedd actually helped record the temperature reading data emitted from the board to help the group estimate how much fuel they will be saving.

Hanley calculated that the network should save the Farleys $1,500 a year on propane, and that was before inflation, so he’s betting the cost savings are even greater now than he previously thought. .

“Thank you to UW-Madison Mechanical Engineering seniors Noah Argus, Mac Donohue, Callan Hanley and Noah Lawinger for helping the Farley Center improve our solar thermal array,” said program director Caroline Tu Farley. “They have been working on it since September and will continue until the end of the school year. We have many students doing various projects and it’s really nice to have so many things at the Center. We love working with the students local high schools and colleges.