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Seattle University


Here comes the sun

Written by Amy Haedt
May 27, 2010

A man from Japan, a man from China, a man from France, a man from Hawaii and a man from Washington all walk into a truck factory… What’s the punch line? The amazing truth is there is no punch line. This is a truly international SU Project Center team, working on a truly innovative solar power project with Kenworth Truck Company that will mark the company’s truck production plant in Renton as one of the largest non-utility scale photovoltaic (PV) solar arrays in the state. 

Electrical and Computer Engineering students Junya Motoike, Siyu Zhang, Christopher Rabotin, Eric Hee and Don Sable have been charged with creating a design for a series of solar panels to be installed on the top of a building on the PACCAR/Kenworth campus in Renton, Washington. “Drivers on I-405 will be able to look out their windows and see one of the largest PV systems in the state of Washington.” says Kenworth Truck Company project sponsor, Facilities Engineer Frank Churchill.

“The goal of the project is to offset the annual energy consumed by the PACCAR Technology Center,” says Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Henry Louie. “To do this requires a 36 kilowatt installation, consisting of over 190 PV panels,” Louie adds.  Seattle University currently has an array that produces 5.3 kW of power. The peak output of the Kenworth system will be nearly 7 times that of the SU system.

“The largest challenge with this project was to learn about solar panels and how a system of PV arrays work,” says Christopher Rabotin of France. “The international composition of our project team was really a great experience,” adds Don Sable.  “We have a lot of different cultural perspectives, but we learned about valuable technology that we can each bring to our future careers regardless of the country where we are employed.”  

“Germany, for example, produces the most solar power in the world.  It’s heavily subsidized,” says Louie.  “In the US we must make the business case that the recovered energy justifies the investment,” adds Churchill. He continues, “Energy costs increased 3.8 percent in the month of April alone. If this system can result in direct transmission to the facility, the cost savings on energy may be quite tangible.” 

The results of this project and more than 20 others will be presented at the annual Projects Day from 1 to 5 p.m. on June 3, in Sullivan Hall. The event is free and open to everyone. More information on Projects Day and the SU Project Center can be found at