Helping homeowners take steps to solar-energy use
Posted November 6, 2012
A recent graduate of an ASU engineering master’s degree program tells how he created a tool to gauge the potential benefit of an alternative power source.
It was in one of the last courses John Mitman took as a senior mechanical engineering major at Arizona State University that his curiosity about the renewable energy field was ignited.
The course teacher, professor of practice Steven Trimble, drew on his many years of experience in the energy industry to give students insight into energy engineering. Mitman became intrigued and applied to graduate school to pursue a career in the field.
At that time, engineering professor Patrick Phelan was establishing the Professional Science Masters in Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization program for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. Mitman saw it as a perfect fit for his professional aspirations. He earned the master’s degree in December 2011.
During his time in the program he began a solar-energy commercialization project that he recently brought to fruition.
Mitman writes about the project:
I had met fellow ASU student Andrew Krause (who is currently in his last semester of a masters in sustainability degree program) in a solar energy colloquium. We discussed various renewable energy technologies and their social implications. He turned me onto an idea that he shared with the company he works for, Natural Power and Energy, based in Scottsdale.
The idea was to create a tool that people could use to design their own solar -energy system and receive industry-grade information to help them make the decision to invest in a residential system. I later decided to take on the challenge of developing this web-based tool as the applied project needed to meet requirements for my master’s degree.
Using solar-radiation modeling techniques introduced to me in one of professor Phelan’s courses, I researched and developed an algorithm to use basic input information about a user’s home and then output the expected energy generation that would be provided by a silicon-based solar photovoltaic system.
With help from Andrew and support from Natural Power and Energy, we created a tool that uses industry-standard information and enables homeowners to see the potential savings from a solar-energy system.
I managed the process of the tool’s development, and began working closely with the company on more forward-thinking aspects of our solar-energy web application. The most exciting thing about the tool is its ability to leverage the reach of social media to educate as many homeowners as possible.
At the end of the system application, a report is generated that summarizes the user’s system, including details such as the cost of the system, expected annual savings and the per-kilowatt- hour savings compared to the user’s current utility rate.
Users can elect to “share” the report via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook, and it can be accessed by friends or family to compare solar sizing designs.
It has been a great experience working with the Solar Home Challenge tool because of the opportunity to apply creative thinking and commercialization methods to the development of a new technology platform.
Almost a year after I graduated from the master’s program, Solar Home Challenge is now integrated with a Customer Relationship Management system and is continuing to grow in commercial strength.
By providing a means for homeowners to learn about the potential to benefit of a solar-energy system, Solar Home Challenge also reduces the upfront marketing costs for solar-energy equipment installers, providing real cost savings that can be passed on to those who decide to purchase or lease a system.
With the savings passed to the consumers, Solar Home Challenge can effectively replace historically low utility incentives and eliminate contractual obligations to sell renewable energy credits (RECs) back to the utility.
I’m thankful for what I learned from ASU’s faculty and for all of the resources they provided me. Now I’m trying to give back to the university by serving on the Young Alumni Community Engagement committee, as well as on the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Alumni Chapter Board as vice president of student initiatives.
I want to help students find inspiration to achieve success by applying their knowledge in unique and exciting ways, as I have been fortunate enough to do.
Joe Kullman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering