Big Stone Gap – Mountain Empire Community College has announced the creation of the first mobile solar-powered energy system in Southwest Virginia, developed by students to showcase solar-powered energy systems and related industrial technology degree programs offered at MECC.
The SPARC-E (Solar-Powered Alternative Renewable Clean Energy) unit utilizes an off-the-grid solar power system, similar to technologies found in home units or public events. The station includes 12 solar modules that are capable of producing approximately 5,000 watts of power. A battery storage unit is used to store the energy produced by the solar array. A back-up generator is also available to supply additional energy when needed. In addition, SPARC-E can be used as a direct power supply for any power grid.
SPARC-E serves as an energy provider to community events and potential emergency response assistance. In the fall of 2015, SPARC-E supplied power to two major events at MECC – the Home Craft Days Festival and the Haunted Forest attraction.
“The goal of the project was to provide experiential learning opportunities to students in industrial technology programs, while also developing a recruitment and educational tool for industrial technology and advanced manufacturing programs,” said Tommy Clements, Dean of Health Sciences and Instruction Technology. “MECC’s welding, industrial electronics, manufacturing, and energy technology students were involved in the design, construction and implementation of SPARC-E, providing a hands-on experience that builds on the knowledge students attain in the classroom.”
Spectators can walk inside the SPARC-E unit to view the unit’s DC/AC power invertors, capable of providing 9000 watts of AC power. The unit features a computerized solar-energy control system, as well as MECC’s mobile virtual welder. The solar energy control system and the mobile virtual welder are utilized as recruitment and educational tools during on-campus events, as well as off-campus activities such as school career fairs.
The development of the SPARC-E unit provided problem-based learning opportunities for students across disciplines, allowing students to apply real-world engineering solutions with marketable applications. Increasing the number of meaningful credentials and supplying a trained, skilled workforce in high demand fields are the hallmarks of the Virginia Community College System’s Complete 2021 initiative.
For more information on MECC’s SPARC-E unit, or industrial technology programs at Mountain Empire Community College, contact the MECC’s Office of Community Relations at 276.523.7480.