"Project Sunshower", San Jose State University (1975-76)
In 1975 students in the Department of Environmental Studies at San Jose State University undertook a campus-wide analysis, "Project Helios", which demonstrated many opportunities for the application of solar energy on the campus (as shown in the resultant sketch above left). They decided to begin by constructing the largest solar water heating system in the United States, to produce 15,000 gallons of solar heated water a day with 9,000 square feet of student-built solar collectors, providing domestic hot water for 600 students in three dormitories. The design target was to produce 100% of the required hot water on any sunny day at any time of year, and 70% of the hot water needs on an annual basis. Dr. Aitken designed and engineered the collectors and arrays, the plumbing and electrical systems and controls, and the mechanical supporting structures. The Chancellor's office believed enough in the students to allocate $180,000 for its construction. During his sabbatical leave in 1976, Dr. Aitken supervised the student construction of the system. It met all of the objectives and design targets, and operated flawlessly for six years, until a careless roofing job destroyed most of the collector mounts. With a new and now unsympathetic administration in place at the University, student repair of the system was not permitted, and no funds were allocated for professional repair. The system died, and stands today (see photo lower right) as a testimony to the contrast between the vision and energy of students who believe in themselves and the power they have to bring about an environmentally responsible energy transition with the lack of vision and support by many of the adults who govern us and run our institutions.