Powering promise

Combining a background in electrical engineering with the real-life business skills she’s learning with the UW Solar club, Shruti Misra is helping make solar power a reality at the UW and beyond.

Be a world of good

Shruti Misra often spends hours on end mired in small details: variables in complex equations that explain currents and voltage, lines and lines of computer code, kilowatts, square footage and price points. But it’s all in the name of capturing energy from something very, very big: the sun.

Shruti Misra

Shruti Misra

Misra, a senior electrical engineering major with a strong interest in sustainability, is committed to harnessing the sun’s energy — whether it’s through finding ways to control solar panels remotely or helping to oversee projects to get panels installed around campus.

UW Solar

Formed three years ago as handful of mostly graduate students, UW Solar became well known on campus after its first project — installing 128 solar panels on the roof of Mercer Court’s A Building in April 2014. The group has since grown to nearly 50 strong, about half of them undergraduates. Students involved in UW Solar come from a variety of departments and disciplines — mechanical, electrical and civil engineering, real estate, marketing, accounting, economics, urban design, cybersecurity and more.

This summer, she’s interning at Athena Energy, a startup that designs hybrid inverters for solar panels. Her role is to help make the panels “smart”: Using her computer programming background, she’s finding ways for users to get data from the solar panels and control them via WiFi. Misra is also busy working on a web interface for the data the panels submit, which she’s never done before. Then again, going out of her comfort zone has taught Misra a lot about solar power — and herself.

That’s why she’s also a project lead for UW Solar. Supported in part by the Campus Sustainability Fund, UW Solar is a collaborative team of about 50 students from all over campus. Through the club, Misra is gaining hands-on experience managing projects that will have a direct impact on sustainable energy use on campus and in buildings owned by UW Real Estate. Though UW Solar is overseen by graduate students and faculty, undergraduates run the show: “I like the fact that you get to do these projects instead of just watching,” Misra says. “Basically, we are like a consulting firm. It’s more of the business side of solar, which is new to me.”

Misra is currently sharpening her business acumen as the project lead of one of UW Solar’s latest undertakings: installing solar panels on the roof of the Agua Verde Café & Paddle Club, a popular neighborhood hangout that’s part Mexican eatery, part boat rental shop. Meeting regularly with other students involved in UW Solar, Misra talks planning, finance, engineering, architecture and more. And then, as project lead, she pulls together all the information into in-depth proposals that detail different types of solar panels, layouts and estimated cost and energy savings.

“I like sitting down and discussing ideas, figuring out how to get projects done,” she says. “Before joining UW Solar, I had no project management experience, but now, I might even focus my career on it.”

Next year, Misra hopes to wrap up the Agua Verde project, but UW Solar continues to grow: The club has finalized talks to help install panels for the West Campus Utility Plant and is discussing several potential projects on and around campus.

Even when Misra and her peers graduate, the solar panels they’ve helped install will remain visible reminders of their hard work and collaboration in the past, the present shift to clean, renewable energy and a future that is, well, bright.

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