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UCF engineering students help OUC improve solar energy efficiency

Students design and build ’skycam’ units to monitor cloud cover

ORLANDO, Fla. – Plans continue for Orlando Utilities Commission to expand its solar energy production in the coming years.

Rubin York, a project manager with OUC, walked through one of their solar farms located in East Orange County on Tuesday showing off new technology created and designed from a college classroom 15 miles away.

OUC leaders said they challenged University of Central Florida senior engineering students beginning in 2019 to design and build an inexpensive camera-based device that included cloud-mapping and predictive technologies.

The end result of the program is a piece of technology called a “skycam,” which maps cloud movements in the area and helps predict their movement over solar farms.

Tim O’Brien plans to graduate from UCF this fall, after leading the second team of engineering students to help design and build skycam.

“To know after we’re done with this project, it’s not going to lay around somewhere,” he said “It’s going to be in the field, in use and probably improved upon in the future.”

York said cloud cover can result in as much as a 70% momentary drop in energy.

“Cloud coverage has a massive impact on solar farms,” York said. “Intermittent clouds are really the problem, when they’re passing in waves or bands, and that causes solar power to come up and down throughout the day. [With skycam,] we can predict when this is going to happen. We can get out ahead of the cloud formations, we can dispatch batteries, dispatch loads, spin up turbines ahead of time. This enables us to implement more green energy without reliability problems.”

York detailed how if power companies don’t prepare, that can mean more brown-outs.

“For people at home, it means your WiFi going out, intermittent power, resetting devices,” he said.

Right now, OUC solar farms account for enough power for around 20,000 homes.

“It will become a larger percentage of our portfolio,” York added.

Crews installed three skycams already and are set to install four more later this fall as this program continues to expand.


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