Solar charging station

You’ll get a charge out of this

Looking for a place to charge your laptop, tablet or smartphone on campus? Instead of scanning the halls for a free outlet, take a look outside. 

The first of five new solar-powered charging stations was recently unveiled at Johnson County Community College, and it sits in front of the Commons, just west of the Commons Plaza outdoor dining area. 

On either side of a sturdy concrete table, one plug and two USB ports connect to a solar-powered battery. Two solar panels above the table collect the sun’s energy and store it in the batteries, allowing busy technology lovers to charge up even when the sun isn’t out. 

JCCC student Taylor Hall submitted the idea of solar charging stations to the Center for Sustainability’s Student Idea Contest in the spring of 2012. 

“I noticed a lot of JCCC students sitting on the hallway floors to charge their laptops, and thought to myself, ‘This is something that is vital to us as students: our laptops, tablets and cell phones.’ I saw a need, and from that started incorporating various sustainable ideas until I fathomed an idea that I felt was unique and plausible,” he said. 

JCCC student Tyler Jones (pictured) took Hall’s idea and developed the first table as part of a class project. Jones is quick to share credit: he said he received funding help from the Student Sustainability Committee, welding assistance from metal fabrication students, and technical guidance from Dan Eberle, assistant professor of energy performance and resource management. He also thanked Hall for the idea. 

The end result of Hall’s idea and Jones’ application can charge up to six devices at one time. The batteries are affixed outside of the seating area to allow for maximum foot room under the table, and the charging outlets are affixed on the outside of support posts to allow for maximum table space, Jones explained. 

“At first I had the batteries under the table, so people could put their feet on them, but we found out there just wasn’t enough leg room that way,” he said. The current “saddlebag design” keeps the batteries well within reach for maintenance but out of the way. 

Other elements of the tables include: 

  • A ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, that shuts off the power and turns it back on again if any problems occur within the electrical circuit. GFCIs are an important safety feature when using electricity in damp or wet areas. 
  • A colored-concrete table that doesn’t have to be staked or weighed down, even with the large solar panels above it. The color was chosen to complement the college’s brick buildings. 
Locations that provide solar collectors the maximum amount of sun within the highest-trafficked spaces on campus. Jones used a solar pathfinder to measure the shadows of surrounding objects, not only for the day he measured but for all four seasons. Based on the solar pathfinder’s readings, the four remaining tables will be placed by the Hare and Bell sculpture in Fountain Plaza, on the west side of Galileo’s Pavilion and by the Carlsen Center.