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UNH Developing Groundbreaking Solar Technology

Release Date:
12/9/2013 9:00 PM

by Jackie Hennessey
Communications and Public Affairs Writer

Where there is a large roof and sunlight, there is the potential for a next generation skylight, one that can illuminate a building, generate electricity and produce hot water – all while drastically cutting energy costs. 

UNH students have developed such a prototype. The groundbreaking solar technology, which they’ve named TriSol, generates three useful energy streams in one device.        

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(L-R) Ravi Gorthala and Shu Kai Chang

Undergraduate students first developed TriSol in the Solar Testing and Training Laboratory in the Tagliatela College of Engineering under the direction of Ravi Gorthala, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Tristan Cowan ’13 and Kevin Jalbert ’13 designed, built and tested a TriSol prototype as part of their senior capstone project.

Development of the prototype was funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund. The University has filed for intellectual property protection and is hoping to advance the technology and commercialize it rapidly, Gorthala said.

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Gorthala can envision the TriSol skylights on the sprawling and expansive roofs of commercial properties, warehouses and shopping malls, as well as on apartment complexes and smaller buildings, infusing the buildings with light and cutting energy costs.

By combining three features into one product, the manufacturing and installation costs are greatly reduced, Gorthala said. “That makes this technology very attractive,” he added. “There is no such product on the market now.”

The goal of the project was to research and develop a novel, cost-effective building-integrated photovoltaic specifically for next-generation skylight technology. Daylight would stream in through the skylight and that sunlight would be put to use, generating electricity and producing hot water.

Since its initial design, graduate students have also collaborated on the project. This semester, Shu Kai Chang, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, is developing a TriSol thermal modeling. Chang said he spends at least 25 hours a week on the project, developing computer models that would allow for changes in size and scope. “The work is very complex and very interesting,” he said. 

“As a leader in experiential education, we want our undergraduates and our graduate students to be innovators and inventors,” Gorthala said. “This project takes persistence, hard work and teamwork, the qualities employers seek in their employees.”

The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and a graduate business campus in Orange, Conn. and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide, and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.