When UC San Diego undergraduate students Josh Hill, Victoria Santos and Alexander Han first became involved with the Solar Chill project, they never thought that they would one day have the opportunity to talk about the unique solar-powered charging station at Clinton Global Initiative University. But they will be doing just that when the annual conference takes place at UC Berkeley, April 1-3.
“I was ecstatic when I learned we were chosen to present,” said Santos, an environmental engineering major who will graduate this June. “Solar Chill has been a labor of love for our entire team—there are currently 20 of us—and Alex, Josh and I are excited to share our experience on the team’s behalf.”
Launched by President Bill Clinton in 2007, Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) brings students, university representatives, topic experts and celebrities together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. Students create their own Commitments to Action that address specific challenges across CGI U’s five focus areas: Education, environment and climate change, poverty alleviation, peace and human rights, and public health.
Essentially a solar-powered charging station with a sustainable seating area, the Solar Chill project addresses CGIU’s environment and climate change focus.
“Our goal with Solar Chill has always been to educate and inspire,” said Han, a third year student who is studying electrical engineering. “We hope to promote the use of solar energy as well as raise awareness of the possibilities for sustainable design.”
The brain child of two members of the UC San Diego chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), Solar Chill began in 2013 with an idea. Engineering students Cyrus Jahanian and Ellen Potts were inspired by the many hammocks they had seen while visiting Costa Rica, and wondered if they could set up something similar on campus.
“Somewhere along the way, Cyrus, Ellen and the other original team members came up with the idea of incorporating a solar component with the hammocks,” said Santos. “They envisioned a unique space for students to de-stress, a place where they could recharge their minds, bodies and portable electronic devices.”
While the original team members have since graduated, an evolving team of ESW members has determinedly shepherded the project along, overcoming numerous obstacles to make their dream a reality.
“There were so many hurdles,” recalled Hill, the current project lead and a third year environmental engineering student. “Locations changed, aspects of the project changed, getting the approvals to build was very complicated, and we didn’t understand the various codes and standards required by the fire marshal, engineers, contractors and administration.”
He continued: “But we learned to overcome all these challenges because we were passionate about our goal and committed to working together as a team.”
Now, that commitment is paying off. Solar Chill is the first student engineering project approved to be built on the UC San Diego campus, and construction is expected to be completed in the next month.
Located in the north campus next to the Village at Torrey Pines and across from The Rady School, the site will feature two benches made from gabions—wire cages filled with rocks—and Trex®, an eco-friendly composite of recycled wood and plastic film. A 1.5-kilowatt solar tree will be connected to the benches, which will have electrical ports to charge laptops, tablets and mobile devices.
“We’re almost there,” said Santos. “Solar Chill will soon be operational, and we can’t wait to see people using it on campus.”
While the project has been student-driven, the team is quick to acknowledge the efforts of others who have helped move the project forward.
“Joseph Romero and John Denhart from UC San Diego Facilities Management have been instrumental in making our project possible,” said Hill. “Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews also provided approval and significant funding to account for engineering and installation costs.”
Matthews, who oversees Resource Management and Planning, hopes Solar Chill will inspire more sustainable projects and ideas from the campus community.
“This project reflects the determination and teamwork needed to reduce the campus’ carbon footprint,” said Matthews. “If UC San Diego is to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, we need more ideas like this and more individuals willing to make this type of commitment.”
The team also worked with outside partners including Spotlight Solar and Lumos Solar, who provided the solar tree structure and solar panels, respectively, as well as Hilfiker Retaining Walls who supplied the gabion benches. The Solar Chill team also received funding from two organizations on campus—the Green Initiative Fund, which encourages students to make a positive impact by creating solutions to social and environmental issues that affect the campus community, and the Triton Engineering Student Council, which promotes academic excellence, community involvement and strong ethical values among Jacobs School of Engineering students.
“So many people have been part of making this project possible,” said Han. “We’d like to thank everyone who has been involved, from design to build.”
He added: “This has been an incredible experience, and we can’t wait to share what we’ve learned with the other attendees at CGI U as well as learn from them. This will be a tremendous opportunity.”