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Sunday, July 16, 2006 

UTech solar project to test
technology transfer
BY PETRE WILLIAMS Sunday Observer Reporter
Sunday, July 16, 2006

IN a move that has been welcomed by local hoteliers, the University of Technology is to build on a project of six engineering students to develop solar power as an alternative energy source for golf cars that are operated with high cost fuel and electrical motors.

UTech will also assess the potential for transferring the technology to heavier vehicles in the second phase of the research.
President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Horace Peterkin, was enthused by news of the project, largely because of its money-saving implications.
"Anything that can take advantage of free energy, which is what we have an abundance of in terms of the solar option, and anything that is going to be able to help the environment in terms of a renewable source of energy, is something that we are in support of," said Peterkin.

Last year, Jamaica consumed over 27 million barrels of petroleum and its oil bill rose to a new peak of US$1.5 billion, as world oil prices climbed.Utility costs soared in tandem with oil prices, and corporate Jamaica ramped up complaints about electricity costs and its impact on competitiveness.

A litre of regular gasolene currently retails within a $53 to $58 range. Electricity charges were increased again on June 1, and Jamaica Public Service Company Limited (JPS) continues to adjust the fuel rate on bills monthly, a cost that generally eclipses actual kilowatt consumption charges.

Peterkin said harnessing solar energy "makes sense for the environment because it is clean and it is renewable.""Once the investment is in place, the thing is virtually free," he said.

The six UTech final year students, in June, were able to defend the viability of the solar project, dubbed SOLCAR, without using all $250,000 in funding initially estimated to cover the cost of the conversion.Attempts to ascertain their names were unsuccessful up to press time.The group rewired a dysfunctional car and created makeshift solar panels to help power it.

"They were resourceful enough to try to get the project together. Nothing on the car was operational and they got a few of the systems working, rewired the car and they replaced the motor," said their supervisor, Dr Noel Brown, himself a mechanical engineer and a lecturer at the university for 11 years.

Now nine months later, the institution is preparing to take the project to the next level - transferring the technology to other types of vehicles - having finally received needed funding from a range of local businesses, including the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), which is sponsoring $224,000 of the research cost.

Other sponsors include JPS and the Alpha-Tech Limited, Tropical Batteries Jamaica Limited and the Constant Spring Golf Club.

By year end, two golf cars - one driven by an electric motor powered by a bank of batteries recharged overnight from an electrical wall outlet and the other powered by gasolene - are to be converted fully to solar power, capable of operating for up to two days without recharge.

The student researchers will be testing the possibility of transferring the technology to vehicles used in the bauxite sector and other industries.

The project is also to include research into the amount of money Jamaica spends on the fuelling or electrification of its golf cars to gauge the full savings that can accrue from solar-powered golf cars.

"We also need to do a survey of the industry to find out what is being spent on these cars in Jamaica. Survey all the hotels, all the golf courses in Jamaica, what fuel they use, the fuel source, the cost of fuel. Then we can actually see the savings that we can have from these cars," said Brown.

Brown said there was discounting the importance of the project, noting the importance of tapping into renewable energy sources and adopting business and personal practices conducive to the environment.

"It would help the people of Jamaica to start changing how they see renewable energy, get them more acclimatised to renewables, which is the way of the future for small, non-oil producing states like Jamaica," he said.Peterkin said the research would put Jamaica hotels in a position to play catch up with regional countries.

"Jamaica, in my view is way behind some other Caribbean countries, like Barbados, where the government, for many years, gave large incentives for solar power to be used for hot water and electricity. The technology is now at a point where it is actually cost effective to do it," he said.

Brown said, at the same time, that he expected the project's successful completion would also help to promote UTech as a centre for renewable energy research.". And then further benefits can be gained from the increased faculty, students and staff research capability to address industrial research efforts," said the lecturer who is also manager of the institution's Energy Unit.

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