By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item
LEWISBURG — Glen Knight is 18, a senior at Lewisburg Area High School, “probably” going to study mechanical engineering in college and has an idea that could start a whole new book on solar energy.
It’s a cool project — literally. Knight has created a way to use water to cool down a solar panel, improving its performance and possibly making another way to heat water for the home.
“I think he’s on to something,” said Wayne Latchford, a physics teacher at Lewisburg High and Knight’s adviser on the project.
Hopefully, the judges will agree at the 49th annual Pennsylvania Junior Science and Humanities Symposium at Pennsylvania State University in University Park.
In late March at Penn State’s Millennium Science Complex, Knight will present his research and findings along with 60 other high school hopefuls from throughout the state for two spots and one alternate to go to the national event at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, in May.
“Renewable energy has a lot of potential,” Knight said, “and it’s important for us to explore these alternative sources because our current means of power generation won’t be around forever. We need to explore new means.”
Knight was inspired by a friend’s paper on climate change, he said. He found solar panels absorb more energy in the form of heat than electricity.
“I’ve always been interested in solar energy and alternate forms and in collecting energy that would be wasted otherwise,” he said.
Solar panels work better when they are cool, and the common method of the moment is convection cooling. Sufficient space between a roof and solar panels lets warm air rise and cool air enter from below. Another method is forced convection, using mechanical fans.
Knight’s cooling system uses water, and he made the system from some simple objects: an ornamental pond pump, vinyl tubing, Styrofoam.
It works by water circulated through the tube, which loops back and forth underneath the solar panel. The heat from the panel transfers to the water, cooling the panel and heating the water. The Styrofoam keeps the tube insulated and in place. The cooling lets the panel produce more energy.
The son of Laurie and James Knight, Glen said he’s feeling “pretty good” about his project. “I got some good information,” he said, “and it’s a sound experiment.”
Knight did his research using two solar panels installed outside Van Wagner’s classroom windows. Wagner, who teaches environmental sciences to seniors at Lewisburg, bought the panels with a grant from the Green Dragon Foundation that was designated to go to the science department.
The symposium at Penn State serves as a platform for talented students with an interest in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “It’s a selective fair,” Latchford said, sponsored by the Army, Navy and Air Force and administered by the Academy of Applied Science.
First- and second-place finishers will attend the National Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, and six first-place winners will each receive $12,000 and may take part in an international symposium.