Sunny disposition: SUNY engineering students will be learning by doing

Support technician Tom La Barr of SUNY New Paltz’s Engineering Department shows off the result of the Resnick Roof Solar Panel Project. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

Like Superman, Resnick Engineering Hall at SUNY New Paltz now receives power from the sun. College leaders met last week to unveil Resnick’s new rooftop solar-panel array, a setup projected to save SUNY New Paltz $1000 per year for utilities on that building.

For Daniel Freedman, interim engineering dean, the project is reminiscent of his entry into science and engineering. In an experiment he did as an eighth-grader, he tried to heat water by reflecting the sun’s rays with aluminum foil to a copper pipe. Alas, it didn’t achieve the desired result. “It maybe heated the water a half a degree,” he said. But the exploration of what light could do stayed with him.


“I’ve been a real fan of solar power for a long time,” Freedman explained. “The idea of getting green energy from the sun is very cool …. I really got a chance to finally realize something I’ve always wanted to do, which is to work on solar power in a significant way.”

About 15 people from undergraduate volunteers to professors, sponsors and even facilities crews at the college were involved in the solar-panel project. Funding came from a $60,000 NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research & Development Authority) grant to The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC). State senator John Bonacic played a role in getting that state money.

Professor Mike Otis, who helped with this project and also coaches the well-publicized solar-car team at the school, said getting the panels was important for the engineering students at the college. “The vision was really to put something in place so we could have some workstations for students,” Otis said. The panels on the building’s roof are arranged in an array of four rows with six panels each. Information from the photovoltaic cells themselves comes through the wire to students’ computers, giving them statistics on whether adjustments need to be made.

Otis noted that engineering students get a real lesson about electricity through studying solar panels. “Having this installation will give the students real-life experience,” the professor said. Energy collected by the sun comes in as DC power, but needs to be converted to AC to power the building.

College president Donald Christian praised the educational opportunity the project provided. He said that the Resnick project had “helped us study the future of solar power in the Hudson Valley” and called the rooftop array “a great laboratory for our students.”

Vince, from, said his solar consortium was glad to be a part of the project. The idea was to get the panels as close to science and engineering students as possible. So when the chance came up, the hub of scientific learning at Resnick Hall seemed the perfect place for a solar array. “By putting the system on the roof, we learned a lot of things – the students, the staff, everybody,” Cozzolino reported.

The new solar panels are easily accessible. Students would need only the keys to the roof to tinker with the array. Having the photovoltaic panels on the roof also makes it possible for college students and professors to innovate by adding more panels and exploring newer, more efficient ways to collect energy from the sun.

Sen. Bonacic sent an aide to speak in his place, but he called it “a win-win project” that could help put SUNY New Paltz on the map for a technology that will only become more important in the future.