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Solar Energy: An Assessment of Alternative Energy Potential at Samford University

Authors: Davis Ebbert*, Samford University
Topics: Energy, Drones
Keywords: Solar Radiation, UAV, Pix4D
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Solar energy is increasingly identified throughout the world as a viable alternative energy supplement.
However, quantitative methods for identifying suitable areas at small spatial scales (e.g., university
campuses) are still in development. Solar radiation analysis using Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
and Digital Surface Models (DSM) can be used to identify prime rooftop areas for photovoltaic solar
panel installations if input data are available, accurate, and up to date. The goal of this project is to
identify suitable buildings for solar panel installation at Samford University, Birmingham, AL. Samford
has a total student population of over 5,000 and sits on approximately 212 acres in the ridge and valley
physiographic province. Samford’s campus sits on a southern-facing slope surrounded by a significant
amount of forested area. Using UAV technology along with Pix4D software, we mapped the campus and
built a 3D DSM. Using ArcGIS, we mapped solar radiation potential, taking tree canopy cover, building
heights, and roof angles into account. Resulting data were combined into a suitability model to identify
the best areas to feasibly harvest solar energy. Results of the suitability model suggest that there are
several viable options for placement of solar panels to supplement energy on Samford’s campus that
will aid in reaching campus sustainability goals and potentially save on energy costs over time, while
contributing to a healthy environment. Future studies on other campuses would be beneficial in an
effort to economically reduce our footprint on our environment.

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