Montana Tech, Highlands College students debut new solar demonstration project

a solar powered picnic area

A new solar demonstration project has been installed on the Montana Tech campus through the collaboration of students in Dr. Robin Bullock’s senior design course and a metals fabrication class at Highlands College.

The project measures 14 feet tall. It is a structure that looks like a headframe and holds south-facing solar panels. The panels power a charging station that sits underneath the headframe, and provides shade to a picnic table where people can sit and enjoy while plugging in their devices. The project is located on the south lawn of the Engineering Lab Classroom (ELC) Building.

students stand with the solar demonstration area

“We chose this area because there’s not a lot of shading there, which makes it optimal to capture sunlight to charge,” said Quinn Springer, an environmental engineering senior from Havre. “We also wanted to put it where students can walk by and use it so it is accessible. The most rewarding part of the project to me is having people approach us because they are excited about the project. Yesterday, a student told me they couldn’t wait to enjoy lunch there.”

Highlands student welds

Springer is part of the senior design team comprising environmental engineering student Alyssa Plant and civil engineering seniors Dakota Powell and Josiah Williams.

Plant, from Helena, said the team drew an early iteration of the design and then made two additional CAD versions. The senior design team had to pour a level concrete pad, test the concrete, and conduct stability testing.

“We knew that we needed the structure to have an angle for the solar panels to sit on,” Plant said. “The design also needed to be historically relevant to Butte. The most challenging part was the weather. We had to have temperatures above 50 degrees to pour the concrete.”

The metal frame that holds the solar panels was created by students at Highlands College. The team included Luke Sherwood, Joseph Parrish, Jacob Hersh, Conner Johnson, Dalton Butler, James Kinsey, Jace Jensen, Sam Reaney, and Rio Davenport.

“It’s been a good learning experience,” said Sherwood, a metals fab student from Dillon.

Parrish, a metals fab student from San Antonio, Texas, said the most challenging part for the welding team was resolving fitment issues.  

“We had a week where we had to figure out how it would fit all together,” Parrish said. “It’s definitely bigger than anything we have welded for this class.”

Butte-Silver Bow will use this headframe as a prototype. A sister structure will be installed at Stodden Park.

“We are thrilled to be collaborating with students at Montana Tech and Highlands College - seeing senior design projects come to fruition that benefit not only the student experience, but the community as a whole,” said Director of Butte-Silver Bow Planning Department Julia Crain, “It’s fabulous.”