Sunday, March 22, 2009

The National Arboretum is going green - even greener than it already is. Students and faculty from Alfred State College in upstate New York installed the arboretum’s first solar-powered irrigation unit last week as part of week-long workshop to highlight the technology. It is expected to become operational in April.

“This is a milestone in the arboretum’s history, to partner with the college in an effort to go green,” National Arboretum Director Thomas Elias said Thursday. “The staff here is eager to move forward as much as possible.”

Twenty-two workshop participants, ranging from a stay-at-home mom to an engineer to college freshmen, studied the installation of the system in the arboretum’s research fields, where no electrical power is available. The system is hooked by satellite uplink to a central controller, which dictates which areas get irrigated and when.

It was the vision of Alfred State College instructor Jeff Stevens, who brought five of his freshmen students into the program.

“I am proud to have worked alongside arboretum staff to provide an educational program that produces eco-friendly power in a cost-efficient manner,” Mr. Stevens said. “That is the pinnacle of what I feel we’ve accomplished this week.”

The system was installed for about $20,000, he said, cheaper than the cost of running electricity to the remote area.

Staff members set up the panels despite clouds and light showers Thursday morning.

“I have always admired and respected plants,” said John Anderson, president of Alfred State College. “They are the ultimate solar collectors, and now we have this simulated plant behind us.”

“I couldn’t be more proud of the students. As I was teaching, they too were teaching,” Mr. Stevens said.

One student, Bob Assad, described his interest in the project as he demonstrated the inner workings of the system with the help of a solar-powered fan.

“People ask me, ‘Why would you give up your spring break for this?’ but I really don’t see it as giving up a break. It’s the wave of the future,” Mr. Assad said.

The project is part of a five-year cooperative agreement between the college and the arboretum.

Mr. Stevens said that ongoing workshops will demonstrate to homeowners, electrical and landscaping contractors and the general public how to install their own systems - which can serve other remote electrical needs such as powering a cottage or a cabin.

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