Solar picnic tables pending installation for spring semester

Nov. 18, 2013

Eleanor Skelton
[email protected]

On the first day of the spring semester, students may be able to charge their smartphones and laptops at outdoor Solar Dok picnic tables.

Matthew Driftmier, a political science major in his second year of a three-year fast-track degree program, wrote the proposal for the solar picnic tables and presented it to the Green Action Fund.

He is also the SGA secretary of sustainability and the founder of the Random Acts of Kindness Club.

Driftmier became aware of the solar charging stations when the Gazette published an article (July 10 issue) this past summer about two tables being installed on the PPCC Centennial and Rampart campuses.

Each table has solar panels on the umbrella that charge Gel Cell batteries below and include four wall outlets and two USB ports protected by outdoor outlet covers. The tables’ LED lights can be used at night.

His original proposal suggested installing four tables, but the fourth table is still being debated.

Driftmier said, “We still haven’t finalized the tables yet, but right now we’re looking at one in the Upper Plaza, one in the Lower Plaza, one out underneath the clock tower in the El Pomar Plaza and then the fourth one I want to bring back would be out in front of the west entrance to the University Center, out by where the Green Action Fund’s bicycle pump is.”

The Green Action Fund proposal requests $42,725 to complete the project. Each table costs $9,795, and the proposal also includes color and design options.

The project currently has verbal approval from facilities, auxiliaries, the university architect and the UC design review board.

Driftmier still must finalize placement with Jeff Davis, executive director at Auxiliaries Services, and order the tables from EnerFusion, Inc.

“There aren’t really hard statistics about how much energy is saved because it’s dependent on how much use they get, how much people are actually using them,” said Driftmier. “This isn’t going to be cutting the UC’s energy bills in half by a long shot. The energy saved will be more negligible.” But each table does have a meter displaying how much electricity is being generated and consumed.

“The real impact we’re looking to get out of these tables is more awareness. Here’s solar panels, here’s real interactions you can have with solar energy, these are the kind of things you can do with it,” he explained.

“We’re really looking for this to be a fun way for people to interact with sustainability because a lot of the time … it’s solar panels on the roof that you never see, it’s gray water systems in the back rooms that you never see, it’s LED lights that you can’t tell a difference in. It’s all these unappreciated areas where you’re really saving a lot of energy and money, but people don’t have an interaction with that.”

He expects the solar picnic tables to be heavily used once installed. “With all the universities that have these tables, they’re very popular, high in demand. It’s usually hard to sit down at them because they’re always full,” he said.

Driftmier’s next project is an anti-idling policy for fleet vehicles on campus. “We really can’t control students’ cars, but we can control things that the university owns, and scores of universities across the nation have these policies.”