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Gerry Palano

Gerry Palano

Energy/Energy Efficiency Coordinator, Department of Agricultural Resources

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So, I found in my mail a brochure for the 7th annual Design Celebration of Smith College’s Engineering Design Clinic – and what a showcase it advertised to be! Design of a Bacterial Mat Sampler for Deep Submergence Vehicles; Design of Green Building Strategies for Habitat Housing; Geothermal System Design for Stop & Shop Supermarket; Design of a Low-Cost, Scalable Solar Concentrator; Design for Nitrogen Reduction at the Wastewater treatment Plant; and, last but not least, Design of a Solar-Powered Micro-Irrigation System and Design Tools. Recognizing that the irrigation project was developed in collaboration with the Amherst regional office of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), I had no doubt this project would be directly relevant and beneficial to our own agricultural community. I decided instantly to attend the event on April 30.

students working in the field

Smith College’s Design Clinic is a requisite year-long “capstone” course where senior engineering students work collaboratively on real-world projects with industry and government, combining engineering design and professional practice class work with real-world applications.

The solar irrigation project team, Solar Spring, was composed of Smith students Taylor Buono, Katelyn Gerecht, Etta Grover-Silva and Caitlin Wood, in collaboration with NRCS’s David Nelson, Nancy Sheard, Louise LeGouis and Carl Gustafson. The project investigated the potential for the application of solar energy powered (photovoltaics or PV) irrigation on small vegetable farms, using a two-acre working farm as its real world application. The culmination and result of this year-long effort was a design that met the farm’s calculated needs of 3,000 gallons per day while satisfying the prime requirements of being a stand‐alone system with a price cap of $15,000. In addition, per the farm’s request, the system was designed with an option to connect a generator to supply auxiliary power.

In addition to CAD drawings and specifications, Team Solar Spring developed an interactive Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and user guide for sizing a solar array for similar off‐grid farms in Massachusetts. As noted in the students’ report, “This solar system sizing design tool is the element of Team Solar Spring’s work that will have the furthest‐reaching impact on Massachusetts agriculture. With a tool to quickly size solar‐powered systems, the NRCS will be more likely to support the future use of solar‐powered systems for irrigation purposes.”

Hats off to Prof. Susannah Howe, Design Clinic Director, and her staff at Smith College, as well as the Design Team seniors that participated in this year’s Engineering Design Clinic. And a genuine, most special thank you and congratulations on behalf of the Massachusetts farming community for a special clean energy project and application for agriculture!

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As Deputy Director of DOER's Green Communities Division, Lisa helps lead a team devoted to working with Massachusetts cities and towns to realize environmental and cost benefits of municipal energy efficiency and renewable energy. Prior to joining DOER, Lisa worked in the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs from 2007 to 2012, first as Press Secretary and then as Assistant Secretary for Communications and Public Affairs. Her previous communications and public relations experience includes both government and the private sector, where, as principal of upWrite Communications, she served clients such as The Trustees of Reservations, The Nature Conservancy, and Partners Health Care/North Shore Medical Center. She began her career as a journalist, covering Beacon Hill for the State House News Service, and later wrote for a variety of other publications including The Boston Globe, Teacher Magazine, Animals Magazine, and The Gulf of Maine Times. The author of two books, Lisa serves on the board of the Saugus River Watershed Council and resides with her family in Melrose.

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