Making Solar Energy Economical: A Grand Challenge of Engineering

Welcome to my Grand Challenge Scholars e-Portfolio! I’m Shomik Verma, from Houston, Texas. I’m majoring in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Energy Engineering, and I am part of the Class of 2019. My Grand Challenge is making solar energy economical. 

The Grand Challenge Scholars Program involves undergraduates exploring 1 of 14 Grand Challenges decided by the National Academy of Engineers. My GCS advisor is Dr. Nico Hotz, director of the Thermodynamics and Sustainable Energy Laboratory. My current research involves developing a mathematical model for using concentrated solar thermal power for biofuel steam reformer to generate hydrogen. Read below for more details about my interest in solar energy and why I want to be a Grand Challenge Scholar!

Solar energy is an invaluable part of solving our current and future energy problems. With growing population comes growing energy demand, and solar is a virtually unlimited energy source with great potential to help meet humanity’s energy needs. One major barrier for solar implementation is cost, as current infrastructure provides electricity for just a few cents per kilowatt-hour.

Therefore, I am a Grand Challenge Scholar to help make solar energy economical. Specifically, I am interested in using thermodynamics and heat transfer to further develop solar thermal applications. Heating is one of the biggest power draws in residential and industrial sectors, so developing solar thermal power using well-understood heat transfer analyses can thus alleviate many of our energy problems.

I have already explored solar thermal in some depth. During the summer following my freshman year I participated in DukeEngage in Argentina where I interned at an environmental non-profit and developed installation plans for solar water heaters in an impoverished community. This was my first exposure to solar thermal, and the possibility of harnessing heat radiating from 93 million miles away has fascinated me ever since.

Since then, I have designed a cheap, easily-manufacturable parabolic trough solar thermal collector for water heating through a Smart Home project called Smart Shelters. I am also doing an Independent Study with Dr. Nico Hotz investigating the feasibility of concentrated solar power for hydrogen generation, using a Fresnel lens for steam reforming of biofuels.

I am a Grand Challenge Scholar to further my experience and technical prowess in solar thermal power and heat transfer. My future goals include applying thermodynamics and heat transfer to develop sustainable energy technologies. Being a part of the Grand Challenge Scholars Program offers many interdisciplinary opportunities for me to pursue my interests and achieve my goals.