Oregon Tech Renewable Energy Engineering students launched phase two of their floating solar aeration system on Upper Klamath Lake this week, which aims to increase the dissolved oxygen levels in the lake to help the endangered Lost River and Shortnose Suckers reach adulthood.
The project began last August with the launch of the first two solar panel systems. Those involved knew they’d be back out this year to check on the original system and to launch a second round.
The floating platforms each consists of four solar panels, which charge a battery and power a pump, which pumps oxygen into the water below. The battery onboard means the systems can run for 24 hours a day, instead of running out of power when the sun goes down.
While Mason Terry, director of the Oregon Renewable Energy Center at Oregon Tech said the project has been a success so far, the team came back out to tweak some things after the original islands have been in the water for almost a year. The program is creating the technology while the Klamath Tribes oversee the system and survey the impact it’s having on the lake and fish.
“Last year was just the pilot project to see if the system will do what we want, test out all of the equipment and learn from that,” Terry said. “This year is more robust, solving the problems we encountered and then deploy the PIT tag reader, so now they’re going to get a better idea of if the fish are actually using the location.”
On Wednesday, the team brought last year’s system back to the Rocky Point Boat Launch, which was closed Tuesday through Thursday for the project. The team made some changes to the first system, along with completing some maintenance, after coming across some unexpected challenges over the past year.
One of those challenges was the birds who live near the lake. Birds were using the solar platform as an island to rest on and were pooping on the solar panels. Because of this, the team build a sort of grid over the top of the platform to keep birds off the panels, similar to what fish hatcheries use, said Terry.
Another tweak was to the aeration hose, which got clogged and would kick up some sediment along the bottom of the lake as the system jostled with wind and waves. To correct that, the team of students built squares out of PVC pipe which can roll along the bottom of the lake and won’t kick up dirt when it moves around.
Jennifer Berdyugin, a graduate student at Oregon Tech working on the project, said the system she and her colleagues created is unique in a couple of ways, one being the size of the lake they’re working on as most aeration systems are on much smaller and more shallow lakes.
She said they factored in several variables the system would likely encounter once on the water for the first year, including the wide temperature changes the area experiences from sizzling summers to snowy winters. They didn’t predict, however, the birds using the restroom on their craft.
Berdyugin said that while they were researching how to help the sucker population, they were also considering any harm they might do to any other wildlife in the area and worked to minimize that.
As a student working toward her masters degree in renewable energy engineering, Berdyugin said it’s opportunities such as working on a project like this that take her beyond the classroom and translate to career experience.
“We learn all the engineering in class, but really, can you put it into practice? That’s the important thing,” she said. “These hands-on experiences, these will help our students get jobs afterwards. To be able to say- ‘Oh yeah, I’ve worked on that before. I actually know what I’m doing.’”
“It’s a great thing for students, to get out here and do something practical,” Terry said. “Seeing how renewable energy can be used to help the environmental problem that we’re having.”
Now that phase two of the project is up and running on the lake, Terry said that if they continue to be successful, they will look at expanding the project to benefit more fish.
“Hopefully if we can show that this has a positive benefit then we can expand this, maybe put it in other locations where the juveniles [suckers] tend to congregate during the [algae] die off time.”