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Two Tommy Clevelands, One Green Mission: Solar Testing, Training Labs at UNH and NCSU

Release Date:
2/22/2011 9:39 AM

Tommy Cleveland x 2 Tommy Cleveland of UNH (left), and Tommy Cleveland of NCSU

Two Tommy Clevelands, One Green Mission: New Solar Testing/Training Programs at University of New Haven and North Carolina State University

West Haven, Conn., February 24, 2011-Consider the odds: two men with the same name, and, unknowingly, a shared mission-to develop a solar thermal product testing lab at a university and jump start the availability of certified solar thermal products in the United States. Tommy Cleveland, solar testing and training laboratory manager at the University of New Haven (UNH), meet Tommy Cleveland, solar energy engineer at the North Carolina Solar Center at North Carolina State University (NCSU).

The "two Tommys" were unaware of each others' existence until this fall, when a colleague's e-mail introduced them.  After marveling at the coincidence, the two quickly realized they share an ambitious plan that will ultimately bring solar-testing jobs and training to their respective states and provide much-needed solar testing services in the United States.

Thanks to a $500,000 U.S. Department of Energy grant and a $100,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, UNH began developing its Solar Testing and Training Laboratory (STTL) this fall-the first of its kind in the state. The lab is part of UNH's Tagliatela College of Engineering. Senator Joe Lieberman and former Senator Chris Dodd secured the $500,000 for the UNH lab through the fiscal year 2010 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.  Senators Lieberman and Dodd directed this funding to the Department of Energy, the agency responsible for implementing the project.  

"The University of New Haven would not have been able to develop our Solar Testing and Training Laboratory without the critical support of Senator Lieberman and former Senator Dodd," said UNH President Steven Kaplan. "They had the foresight and the vision to ensure that the state of Connecticut would be home to the first certified solar testing facility in the Northeast. Green technology is one of the hottest growth industries in the world today and due to the senators' efforts Connecticut will become a major player in this field."

Similarly, NCSU's Cleveland began creating a solar product testing lab in 2009 after receiving a $100,000 North Carolina Green Business Fund from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. According to NCSU's Cleveland, "The N.C. Solar Center has a history of testing solar thermal technologies, but this is the Solar Center's first initiative to become an accredited testing lab. As an accredited lab, the testing data can be used by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) for certification of the tested solar thermal collectors. The testing and laboratory standards required us to rebuild the lab from the ground up. However, due to a limited budget for such an endeavor, the Solar Center was forced to be innovative in the design and construction of the laboratory. After a lot of hard work, we expect the lab to be open for testing beginning the second half of 2011."

"There is an acute need in the United States for solar thermal product testing," says UNH's Cleveland. "Currently, there is a 14- to 30-month backlog for solar product testing because there are only five accredited labs in the entire country." He emphasizes that every solar thermal product in the United States must be certified in order to be eligible for a tax credit.

The reasons for so few existing accredited labs are undeniable. "Setting up the testing systems and protocols is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and the processes involved in attaining accreditation are demanding," UNH's Cleveland says.  With growing consumer awareness and an extended deadline for the 30-percent tax credit for solar energy systems which ends December 31, 2016, however, the reasons for getting an accredited solar testing facility off the ground are even more compelling. He adds, "It will also provide a number of very challenging senior engineering projects for our students."

Under the guidance of UNH's Cleveland, the start-up phase of the Connecticut project will consist of senior engineering students designing and validating the automated testing systems to be used in the STTL. Once established as an accredited testing laboratory, student interns will perform fee-for-service testing of solar products.  On an on-going basis, new student teams will be engaged in identifying needs and adding new instrumentation systems to the STTL inventory.

About the University of New Haven

A leader in experiential education, the University of New Haven provides its students with a valuable combination of solid liberal arts and real-world, hands-on professional training. Founded in 1920, UNH is a private, top-tier comprehensive university with an 80-acre main campus. The University has an enrollment of more than 5,900: approximately 1,700 graduate students and more than 4,200 undergraduates, 70 percent of whom reside in university housing. The University offers more than 80 undergraduate degrees and more than 25 graduate degrees through the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, the Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, the Tagliatela College of Engineering and University College. University of New Haven students study abroad through a variety of distinctive programs.

About the North Carolina Solar Center

Created in 1988, the North Carolina Solar Center, as part of the College of Engineering at North Carolina State University (NCSU), works closely with state and local government and the renewable energy industry. It manages and maintains the NCSU Solar House, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) and serves as a resource for innovative, green energy technologies through research and demonstration, technical assistance, education, outreach and training. For more information please visit: