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Georgia Southern faculty, Information Technology Services team up to conduct solar research

Solar tracking equipment is mounted at Allen E. Paulson Stadium. Researchers at Georgia Southern use this to gather data on solar energy for the area.

South Georgia is known for its sweltering, sunny days. While residents may resent the heat now, researchers at Georgia Southern are trying to prove its benefit by determining the amount of potential solar energy available in the Statesboro area. Their findings could not only provide groundbreaking data for clean energy resources, but could also save local residents a lot of money.

Pioneering this research is Assistant Professor David Calamas, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Biswanath Samanta, Ph.D., who hope to determine the viability and cost effectiveness of using solar energy as an energy source in the region.

Calamas reached out to the University’s Center for Sustainability in 2014 to promote his team’s research idea and earned a $31,424.75 grant funded by the University’s student sustainability fees to cover the cost of the solar trackers needed to begin the experiment.

In 2016 Calamas and Samanta earned a $97,795, two-year grant from Georgia Power Company to cover the other necessary equipment and instruments required for accurate data and measurement recording.

“We have been collecting data since 2015, and now we’re just collecting more,” said Calamas. “We essentially need to average out cloudy and rainy days. Just because it may have rained a lot this January doesn’t mean that’s historically true. We need enough data to know what an average day in January looks like, and that will take years to determine.”

The amount of effort and research into this initiative is more than worth it, though, says Calamas. The goal of their research is twofold. For one, the team would like to determine the specific combination of equipment and measurements needed to record the most accurate data.

“We have different types of instruments to measure the different types of solar energy,” he said. “The goal is to determine what types of measurements we need to make the most accurate prediction into the future. The farther into the future we can predict, the better that is for a power company.”

For the last three years Calamas and his team have been able to record enough data to predict the sun’s power source potential hours in advance.

“We’re very accurate right now,” said Calamas. “Currently, we can predict incident solar energy accurately four hours in advance. For example, if we can show a power company the predicted solar potential for a specific time, say around 5 p.m., when people are getting off work, the companies can offset some of the costs by switching to solar power during those times.”

The second goal, Calamas says, is “pure scientific merit.” The results from this research could bring a whole new wave of clean energy facilities to the south. Major companies throughout the nation are looking to this research to learn more about the clean energy potential of the area and to potentially host this data as well.

“There’s not a lot of this data available in the U.S.,” he said. “The closest solar research facility, I believe, is in Tennessee, and there are maybe 15 or so stations in the country. Essentially, there is very little to no local data on solar energy right here in south Georgia.”

The data needed to make these predictions is extensive. Recordings of the sun’s position are taken every single minute of every day, equating to more than 1,400 measurements daily. To store this massive amount of information, Calamas needed specific, high-end technology to report accurate findings.

Calamas teamed up with Brandon Kimmons, director of Computational Research Technical Support (CRTS) in the University’s Division of Information Technology Services (ITS), to store this high quantity of data on a special server.

“By using our virtual server hosting solution, we were able to provide a reliable and secure way to access and store the data coming in from the Solar Tracker hardware,” said Kimmons. “Once the data is logged and stored on the virtual server, it is then available for Calamas and Samanta to access for further analysis.

“Data is collected by the plethora of sensors that are on the device, then stored locally on the device for a short period of time,” said Kimmons. “The data is then synced off to a server, and we’re able to pull this data over the Georgia Southern network.”

Kimmons has also helped to quantify the data, create charts and compute measurements.

It has taken more than just Calamas and Kimmons to make a project of this magnitude work. They have worked with various University departments throughout the entire process to make this research possible. CRTS assisted with managing the project and the relationships with the various groups to ensure a successful result.

“From a support perspective, it crossed a lot of different areas on campus,” said Kimmons. “We’ve had physical plant guys to get the equipment mounted; we brought in our networking team to install network drops where it was mounted; Eagle Athletics let us mount it on the press box at Paulson Stadium.

“We were able to get a lot done because we worked together. We created a benefit for Georgia Southern that would not have existed otherwise.”

Ron Stalnaker, Georgia Southern’s Chief Information Officer, looks at this collaboration as indicative of the type of service that ITS provides to the University community.

“Our driving goal is to provide excellent service to our students, faculty and staff,” Stalnaker said. “We really enjoy the opportunity to innovate and help create these types of solutions. I’m especially proud of the work that Brandon and his team did on this project and I expect more great things from them in the future.”

CRTS is willing to help with other research projects and anyone who needs assistance collecting data or running computational simulations. Email crts@georgiasouthern.edu for more information.

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/Research institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving more than 27,000 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit GeorgiaSouthern.edu.

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