Campus Fellow's iPhone App Advocates Use of Solar Energy

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Good news for anyone with an iPhone-as early as this summer, owners of the handheld device may be able to run an application that helps fight climate change.

The application, dubbed "Solar Prospector," is the brainchild of Bernt Wahl, a UC Berkeley Industry Fellow at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. This application will give homeowners-or curious college students-an estimate of any location's solar energy output, encouraging them to install solar panels to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.

"The idea is that with the press of a button people can calculate the amount of solar energy that a given area will get over a period of one year," Wahl said.

Using a combination of the phone's camera, GPS system and a graph of the sun's pathway, the program will

calculate the total amount of solar potential energy yielded in a year, said junior Julian Sproul, a conservation and resource studies major and coordinator for the project.

With revenue generated by referrals to solar installation companies, Wahl said he will provide the application to the general public for free.

After downloading Solar Prospector, users will simply stand outside, turn on the application and wait for about a minute, he said. He added that the results should provide them with enough information to determine whether installing solar panels would be fiscally feasible.

"In terms of environmental effects, (the iPhone application is) an avenue into solar installation. With this app, more residents will see the benefits of solar," Sproul said. "We want to put solar on as many roofs as possible to combat climate change."

According to Wahl, the program can also save homeowners money in the form of a government rebate. But in order to get the rebate, homeowners must submit data concerning the amount of solar energy their residences will receive, he added. Current technology generally necessitates that homeowners buy equipment and receive training or hire an official to run the test he added.

While the Solar Prospector is not a substitute for existing methods yet, Sproul said he believes the iPhone application will be much more convenient, especially since it is free.

"It's all about accessibility," he said.

Partnering with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Wahl and members of his Entrepreneurship and Innovation: Web 2.0 class will spend this semester developing a beta version of the application. The prototype will not take into account any obstructions of solar energy such as trees or buildings and will assume total sunlight without shadow. However, Wahl said he is confident that his team will have a completed version of the Solar Prospector by the end of the year.

Wahl said the iPhone provides a great platform for future endeavors, as new applications could aid developing countries where it is too expensive and impractical to transport heavy equipment and training courses are hard to come by.

"To its extreme (the iPhone application) could tell you optimal plants to grow (using) sensors and GPS for weather conditions," he said.

Dr. Sean White, an instructor at Diablo Valley College, said the program was a viable means of collecting data.

"I believe in (Wahl), and I think he's going to make something out of it," White said. "If he makes this work, it'll be something that people all over the world will have."


Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato covers environment. Contact her at [email protected]

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