The University of Northern Iowa’s celebrating another notch of energy independence today. Energy educator Pat Higby works in UNI’s Center for Energy and Environmental Education. Part of the College of Natural Sciences, it’s similar to programs on other campuses designed to do outreach and teach the public about environmental and energy topics, and while this project is part of what she’ll teach in schools, it’s also for the general public to teach about solar energy. The addition being unveiled is a long-awaited bank of photo-voltaic cells that’ll turn sunlight directly into electrical current. Higby says you see this kind of “P-V” cells everywhere, even on a hand calculator. But imagine its light-sensitive panel being four by eight feet, and with three you’d have the display outside the campus CEEE Building. Unlike solar panels of two or three decades ago, it doesn’t have pipes and a circulating fluid system to heat water, and doesn’t take up a lot of space on the roof. But Professor Higby says it IS a system you could put into a house, and in other states they’ve already built some. She says that’s what “zero-energy homes” are all about, explaining that just like you look for an Energy-Star rating when you buy a new appliance, there also are Energy Star homes. The center’s been assembling the solar collectors for years, and the completion of this system will be celebrated this afternoon with a pizza party at the center.
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