Todd Otanicar was recently awarded a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) from the U.S. Department of Energy, and we had a moment to sit down with him to discuss his work.
In describing the Solar Resource and Meteorological Assessment Project:
The goal is to set up a monitoring station for solar radiation. We’re interested in monitoring a specific portion of the incoming solar radiation known as direct or beam radiation. We will install specific radiation and meteorological monitoring equipment atop University Hall in April of 2010.
How did the project come about?
National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) had several reasons for pursuing such research. One of which is that they’re interested in the data; more specifically they want to make the broad spectrum of laboratory resources available to everyone. As a government entity their job is to educate the public about the different renewable energy options available to them. We already have data that suggests what parts of the world receive the most solar radiation; however their maps are great only for total insulation, not necessarily for the direct spectrum component. NREL is looking to improve the modeling capabilities for the direct component of radiation. In the past they used satellite measurements, now they’re shifting their interest towards acquiring field data.
Why did you go into mechanical engineering?
Possessing a Bachelor Degree in Aerospace Engineering and experience working for GE on aircraft engines, I earned my Masters in mechanical engineering through a program with GE. I chose this route due to its flexibility which later allowed me to pursue a Ph.D. focusing on renewable energy.
What inspired you to take on this work?
With a Ph.D. focusing on solar energy, I’ve naturally been interested. When I saw the solicitation for the project I had already accepted the Assistant Professor position here at LMU. Naturally I was not about to pass up a great opportunity to get involved with NREL on research.
What will be the impact of this project?
This project has tremendous potential in its educational outreach and research components. We are interested in seeing how direct insulation varies as a function of being in a coastal urban environment. For example, do we see variations in direct solar flux due to our proximity to one of the largest airports in the country? During the fire season, will there be reduced solar radiation because of ash in the air? Results like this have been observed during major volcanic eruptions. But overall its impact is meant to further advance our understanding of direct radiation within the United States.