On the Friday after Fall Break, Oct. 18, 2019, Emily Hay ’21 went with her Alternative Energy 1 course to the Solana Solar Plant in Gila Bend, Ariz. It was for a class trip that consisted of her professor and eight of her fellow students. While it was not a required trip, it was highly encouraged, and all attempts were made to “coordinate and accommodate everyone’s Friday schedule,” according to Hay. Due to the drive, which was three hours each way alone, it turned into a day trip that included a tour of the solar plant, education about how the plant operates, and a group lunch.
The purpose of this trip was for Hay and her fellow students to learn about the plant and its processes. As relayed by Hay, the Solana Solar Plant transfers solar energy to electrical energy using mirror panels that are angled in such a way to deflect UV rays onto a pipe filled with an oil-like substance. These sun rays then heat this central pipe and it is that heat energy that is used to power steam turbines in the plant. This, in turn, creates electrical energy that powers the state of Arizona, particularly helping Phoenix. Hay’s description of the plant processes sounded exactly like the “School House Rock” video on electricity, which I found to be familiar.
From this trip though, Hay loved the experience. She went on the voluntary trip not only because of her course but because of her major. She studies Mechanical Engineering, focusing on the energy track and this trip helped to give her a real-time application of what she has learned thus far at Embry-Riddle. The Solana Solar Plant is an actual rendition of how solar energy goes from step one – sunlight and its rays – to the final step of electrical energy. And she found this to be fun! By traveling to this plant, she can be exposed to the astounding possibilities of what her field of study does, and it also assists her in “narrowing down the scope of topics” she can work on post-college, says Hay.
Hay never thought she would be able to get close enough to a mirror panel until she went on this trip. While she and the other students were there, the plant technicians and engineers brought a panel down for her and the others to examine. Hay found it “really cool in its simplicity because it’s simply curved glass that reflects sun rays to the central pipe for heating.” The one she got to see was currently in use but was turned so that the critical angle of deflection wouldn’t cause her and the others harm, like a sunburn. It’s Hay’s admiration captured by Alyssa T. that we see in the photo of her looking up at the panels, really affirming her desire to work in the renewable energy field should an opportunity arise.
The other photo accompanying this article is of the “mirror field, for lack of a better term,” says Hay. To give some insight to the solar plant, Hay revealed that it isn’t even of the entire operation. Taken by Hay from the highest point of the plant by the accessible roof turbines, the image gives an idea of how much energy is being made all at once. Hay was in awe and hit with the reality of energy consumption when taking this picture. “It shows how much energy can be produced from the sun and puts in perspective how much energy is needed to power a city,” comments Hay. The places our peers go are so impressive.