Gulf Coast State College builds solar powered generators for Puerto Rico

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PANAMA CITY, FL -- (WTVY) After seeing the devastation Hurricane Maria caused in Puerto Rico, students and staff at Gulf Coast State College (GCSC) in Panama City wanted to use technology to make a difference on the island.

They want to build what they're calling "Solar Harvesters" using a solar panel, a controller, and a power inverter.

"A controller keeps the batteries from overcharging and limits the output of the battery pack when the battery pack begins to run low," GCSC Volunteer Tom Hoots said. "The power inverter, like what you'd get at an RV store, that's converting the DC power from the batteries into AC that's usable by standard household equipment."

Some of the parts will get stripped from a 1985 Chevy S10 electric truck.

"[The solar harvester] needs to be able to reliably run medical equipment [for] people who are dependent on breathing machines or CPAP machines overnight," Hoots explained. "We need enough storage value in it to do that. The other will be a more residential model designed to run a fan and a small refrigerator."

"One of the biggest problems you'll find in children is asthma. We got some calls with people that pretty much they're using their insulin with no refrigeration," Entrepreneurship Coordinator Emmanuel Hernandez said. "That's the kind of need we want to solve. We don't want to provide luxury we just want to provide the basic needs they need from a power perspective."

Student Entrepreneur Brittani Peacock said this project is sharpening her people skills.

"Being an entrepreneur, you have to make connections and engage with people a lot," she said.

It'll also help Puerto Ricans recover from a real-world disaster by turning on a few more lights.

"A lot of times it's easy to know something and not do something, but right now we have the connections and capabilities to do something," Peacock explained.

Each Solar Harvester costs about $400 to make, and they have a goal to build at least 100 by October 15.

"The more we bring, the better because it's going to make a little dent, but Puerto Rico's a big place," said Peacock.

Local entrepreneurs started a non-profit charity called High Hopes to help send supplies to Puerto Rico.

They're also collecting non-perishable food, water, first-aid essentials, and construction supplies.

The main drop-off location is inside the Student Union East Building on the Panama City Campus.