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UF researchers hope to make solar more useful during long power outages

A research team at the University of Florida has developed a system that can provide solar energy for homes during prolonged power outages.

The Intelligent Control System is powered by rooftop solar energy and a battery but uses artificial intelligence to decrease the cost of keeping essential home appliances or devices running. By using “smart technology,” the system determines how much power and which appliances receive energy.

“In your house, the refrigerator is the most important thing after a blackout because you want food … and then you want some lights and fans,” says Prabir Barooah, professor at the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and a member of the project team. “It doesn’t make sense to run the air conditioner because it will just consume all the energy.”

Barooah became interested in developing an affordable backup energy system for homeowners after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean and Florida in 2017. He visited Puerto Rico after the storm and says he found “a lot of misinformation” both there and in Florida. People who had installed solar panels on their homes believed they would have power after the hurricane hit. “They did not realize you also need a battery for that to happen,” Barooah says.

Making the intelligent control system affordable, “especially to the economically disadvantaged,” was a major goal for the research team. Barooah estimates the extra equipment needed to run the control system would be around $300. This excludes the cost of installing solar panels, which can be expensive.

“I cannot reduce the cost of solar panels and batteries,” Barooah says. “But what I can do is help you get energy service for longer with a smaller system.”

Though the system has been tested through real-time computer simulations, the next step is to install, deploy and test a real system in a house or similar-sized building. Barooah and his team have access to a building on the UF campus but are in the process of finding funding for the project, which will cost about $100,000.


Read more in Florida Trend's September issue.
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