UK’s Energy Club brings solar-powered charging umbrellas to campus


Travis Fannon

Newly installed solar umbrellas sit outside of Jewell Hall on north campus on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Travis Fannon | Staff

Laurel Swanz, Reporter

Since 2018, UK’s Energy Club has strived to bring renewable energy awareness to campus through various projects, their most recent being the installation of eight solar-powered charging umbrellas.

The umbrellas absorb energy from the sun, charging a battery in their picnic table’s base which then powers four USB ports, four USB-C ports and two wireless charging pads.

Each table can charge up to 10 devices. They are located on the sidewalks between The 90 and Lewis Honors College and in front of Jewell Hall.

Frontrunners of the project said it aims to excite and educate students about sustainable energy practices.

“I think when most people think of Kentucky, renewable energy is not the first thing that comes to mind,” Energy Club Vice President Ben Scott said. “We wanted to have a big green initiative that was very visible to everybody and that could actually be used practically by students on their day to day.”

Two years in the making, Energy Club’s initiative came to fruition at a ribbon-cutting event on Nov. 30, 2022.

Scott sparked the idea when he was working as Energy Club’s project director in 2020.

“We decided to explore solar options because that wasn’t a type of renewable energy we pursued in the past,” Scott said. “We were doing research on possibilities of solar powered projects we could bring to campus and that’s how we stumbled across the solar umbrellas online.”

A Gainesville, Florida, native, Scott lives down the street from the University of Florida where he saw students find success with a similar project.

EnerFusion was the company behind the building and installation of the umbrellas on UK’s campus. The bulk of Energy Club’s work consisted of securing funding and troubleshooting details like color and location.

Club President Mason Wood worked to present the project to sponsors in a “Shark Tank-style” manner to secure the $40,000 needed to install the umbrellas.

The project’s sponsors include the Student Government Association, the College of Engineering, UK’s Student Sustainability Council and Coca-Cola.

According to Wood, part of the pitch to sponsors included how these umbrellas wouldn’t deplete UK’s main energy source, unlike the previously attempted project of installing electric car chargers.

“That’s another thing we thought would be good because it was completely off the grid and could easily impact campus,” Wood said.

Previous Energy Club projects have caused less impact on how students get their energy and focused mostly on education. They include a hydroelectric tank and a bike generator.

Wood and Scott are both seniors and have been involved with Energy Club since their freshman year. Scott said they are excited to see how the club has grown with each project.

“This is a club on campus that has the potential to do big projects and have a real impact,” he said. “People are charging their phones with solar energy as opposed to whatever’s burning at the power plant.”

Wood, an engineering major, said that his passion for the club comes from his career aspirations in the energy field, but that there’s a place for everyone in Energy Club.

“We’re open to any students that want to learn more about energy, whether or not that’s the career they want to choose,” Wood said. “If that’s something they want to get involved in now, we want to provide them with that opportunity.”

Scott, a biology major and aspiring wildlife biologist, said his interest in Energy Club stemmed from a conservation standpoint.

“The reality is, there’s no getting around energy, and that’s probably gonna be the biggest determinant of Earth’s future when it comes to everything including wildlife, so I definitely understand the importance of it,” he said.

Energy Club is already planning its next projects. Electric car chargers are expected to appear on campus in the next few months and a portable battery building workshop for students is in the works.

“Obviously this a huge breakthrough for Energy Club, but another motivation of ours is for this to be a breakthrough for green initiatives on campus in general,” Scott said. “We hope that this inspires other student organizations to do these real projects. It’s very achievable if you just spend the time and focus on it.”