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A Multidisciplinary Capstone Project Experience in a Small Liberal Arts College Setting: The Hybrid Solar Tracker

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Capstone Projects, Design Projects, and Teamwork

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.72.1 - 23.72.13



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Paper Authors

author page

Tomas Enrique Estrada Elizabethtown College

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A Multidisciplinary Capstone Project Experience in a Small Liberal Arts College Setting: The Hybrid Solar TrackerAbstract Over the past two decades, the overall scope and expectations for capstone projects inundergraduate engineering project has evolved. There has been an increased focus onmultidisciplinary work and hands-on learning. The topics of student interest have evolved aswell. Studies show that an increasing percentage of students are drawn towards topics related tosustainability. Regardless of these changes, one thing that remains true is that small engineeringdepartments, particularly departments housed in small liberal arts colleges, are faced withadditional challenges. These challenges include working with limited resources (budget,laboratory space, equipment) and the necessity for the instructor to supervise projects outside ofhis or her area of expertise. Thus, it can be difficult to develop capstone project ideas that arerealizable in this setting. We believe the Hybrid Solar Tracker project was an example thatfeatured many key ingredients conducive to achieving a successful experience despite theselimitations. The project team was multidisciplinary in nature. The instructor was a professor inelectrical engineering. Two of the students were seniors in computer engineering, and one was asenior in mechanical engineering. The students were originally given a budget of $300 by thedepartment, but were encouraged to seek external sources of additional funding. To this effect,the students participated in the Xplore Contest, sponsored by the Phoenix Contact (amultinational engineering firm), and received over $4,000 dollars in this funding from thiscompany. In the process of this contest, the students documented their work by recording videosthroughout various stages of the process and uploading them to the Internet. The contest alsoserved as a means of external validation for their work. The students surveyed the existing literature in solar trackers and developed their owndesign, with the objective of increasing tracking efficiency. Their design was a hybrid concept,combining active tracking and chronological tracking. Although chronological tracking has thepossibility of being as efficient as active tracking, the likelihood of there being no disturbances tothe light source is slim, especially in a typically cloudy place. The sun moves across the sky fromEast to West, 180 degrees, every day. Each year, the sun moves from low in the sky in winter tohigh in the summer, with a change of no more than 180 degrees in a year (from 0-90 degrees andback). Considering the rate of change in each direction, the students determined that, especiallyfor our location (Pennsylvania), tracking the sun’s movement across the sky (polar axis) was ahigher priority for efficiency than tracking its vertical movement (elevation axis). Thus, thesystem used active tracking in the polar axis and chronological tracking in the elevation axis. The Hybrid Solar Tracker ranked among the top 100 projects worldwide for the PhoenixContact Xplore Contest and won the award for Best Senior Project in the department. Whilethere were factors to be improved on, both in terms of planning and execution, this project was apositive example of how to achieve a successful capstone project experience in a small liberalarts college setting.References1. Dunlop, James P.. Photovoltaic systems . 2nd ed. Orland Park, Ill.: American Technical Publishers, Inc., 2010.Print.2. Appleyard, David. "Solar Trackers: Facing the Sun." Renewable Energy World Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May2011..3. 2. "Solar tracker performance and economics in Australia ." Solar Energy - Solar Rebates - Solar Power -Solar Installations. N.p., n.d. Web. 6 May 2011. .4. “Solar Electricity Handbook: 2012 edition.” Solar irradiance calculator. Web. 10 Nov. 2011.

Estrada, T. E. (2013, June), A Multidisciplinary Capstone Project Experience in a Small Liberal Arts College Setting: The Hybrid Solar Tracker Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19086

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