New outdoor gathering places at UH Hilo: Solar powered e-charging stations

Several solar powered recharging stations were built over the summer complete with seating, USB ports, Wi-Fi access and a unique roof and gutter system to keep students dry during Hilo’s rainy weather.

By Susan Enright.

Covered area with tables and charging ports. Students seated at tabled with laptops connected.
The covered recharging stations outside the Student Services Center. Photo by Raiatea Arcuri/UH Hilo Stories.

In response to student requests for more covered outdoor spaces to sit, eat, talk story and study at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, several solar powered recharging stations were built over the summer complete with seating, USB ports, Wi-Fi access and a unique roof and gutter system to keep students dry during Hilo’s rainy weather. The stations are located near main hubs around campus: the Student Services building, the College of Business and Economics, near the UH Hilo Bookstore and the main entrance to UH Hilo campus.

Additional solar recharging stations were built adjacent to a newly renovated outdoor basketball court.

It takes a village

The projects, initiated by Interim Vice Chancellor for Administrative Affairs Kalei Rapoza and Interim Chancellor Marcia Sakai, were completed through a collaboration between the Hawaiʻi Community College carpentry program and the UH Hilo’s administrative affairs team.

Six students from Hawaiʻi CC carpentry program, under the tutelage of instructor Darryl Vierra, constructed a total of ten picnic tables for the shelters. Vierra and Dave “Moku” Baptiste, UH Hilo’s information technology specialist, collaborated on the shelter design. Baptiste designed the picnic tables’ solar infrastructure to charge electronic devices.

Glass enclosed shelter with benches.
New recharging shelter located at the UH Hilo main entrance. Courtesy photo.

The design of the stations includes solar panels mounted on the roofs to produce efficient renewable solar energy stored in a battery until students access the USB ports and outlets to charge electronic devices. A timing mechanism conserves the stored solar energy when the ports and outlets are not in use. The timer activates the USB ports and 110V outlets in 30-minute intervals to charge electronic devices (similar to a jacuzzi timer), and can be reactivated for subsequent 30 minute intervals. Baptiste and Shannon Asejo also installed Wi-Fi access points at each of the stations.

Cost efficiency was key to the project in order to fit within the allocated summer project budget. Under the direction of Gene Harada, instructor at the Hawaiʻi CC carpentry program, the carpentry students prepared and installed the concrete pads for the shelters and tables, reducing cost. The summer project team built and installed the ten tables at a fraction of the cost to purchase and ship tables with solar powered charging stations to Hawaiʻi. Using solar panels from a previous project and employing in-house auxiliary staff to transport and install the tables kept down cost.

The estimate to ship a four-seat solar powered charging station table to Hawaiʻi was $17,946 per table. The material and supply cost to construct the eight-seat (or wheelchair accessible six-seat) wood picnic table with a metal roof and gutter was $2,592 per table.

The picnic tables seat eight people or six with a wheelchair, making the stations accessible to all students. The concrete pad installed by the carpentry students for the tables near the College of Business and Economics has a wheelchair accessible concrete path to the tables.

This post was updated on Sept. 18, 2018 to add the actual cost savings.

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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