Collaborative Engineering Program explores renewable energy

April 23, 2018
Solar panels

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. – Students in University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Collaborative Engineering Program on the UW-Fox Valley campus will soon have an opportunity to experience firsthand the electrical engineering concepts they are learning about, without even leaving the building. Dr. Fang Yang, UW-Platteville assistant professor of electrical engineering in the Collaborative Engineering Program, is introducing new projects, including solar photovoltaic panels and a microgrid energy management system, on the UW-Fox Valley campus in Menasha, Wisconsin.

Yang began exploring these ideas two years ago. Recognizing renewable resources as an emerging field of technology – and one that she addresses in her Power Systems course – it seemed logical to have examples available at her students’ fingertips. She, along with her students, began to gather information by visiting local places that use solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable resources. Last summer Yang applied for, and received, a grant from WPPI Energy in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, which financed 50 percent of a roof-mounted solar photovoltaic project.

The project received strong support from Dr. Martin Rudd, regional executive officer and dean of UW Colleges Northeast Region, including UW-Fox Valley; Dr. Mesut Muslu, professor of electrical engineering at UW-Platteville and coordinator of the Sustainability and Renewable Energy Systems program; Dr. Philip Sealy, chair of the UW-Platteville electrical engineering department; and Kristi Gimmel Becker, director of the UW-Platteville Collaborative Engineering Program. Both UW-Fox Valley and UW-Platteville sponsored the other 50 percent funding to accomplish this project through approved professional development grant applications to Yang and Dr. Warren Vaz, assistant professor of engineering at UW-Fox Valley. In particular, the Board of Trustees of UW-Fox Valley, representing Outagamie and Winnebago Counties who oversee the facilities, enthusiastically and unanimously supported this project, according to Rudd.

In March, the 10.35 kW solar photovoltaic system was installed on the Engineering Building at UW-Fox Valley. The solar panel system is expected to produce 14,430 kWh annually, which is approximately 9 percent of the electric energy consumption of the building. Yang anticipates the energy savings will pay for the cost of the system itself in less than eight years.

“At UW-Platteville, we are talking about how to better integrate sustainability concepts into different courses, and this is a great opportunity to do that,” said Yang, who added that they are currently in the process of installing the monitoring system for the solar panels, which will allow students to see the power output from the system. “Once we have it running, we will get a lot of data that we can use in class projects. We have already been doing this with solar data we have collected from other places.”

Yang is now working on a related project to take the students’ experience one step further. In February, she was awarded a Prototype Development Fund Award from WiSYS Technology Foundation and University of Wisconsin System for developing of a comprehensive microgrid energy management system.

According to Yang, as interest in renewable resources has been steadily growing over the past several years, so too has the interest in the microgrid concept. A microgrid is a small-scale power system that oftentimes consists of a renewable energy source, such as solar power or wind. Microgrids serve a specific area, which could range in size from a single building to a university campus or industrial complex, or even a small island. They can operate as part of the larger, utility grid or function independently. The microgrid operates using an energy management system, which monitors and controls its performance.

Yang’s prototype of a microgrid energy management system will be developed on the basis of the Engineering Building’s existing electric system and the newly installed solar system. The entire building itself will be treated as a microgrid. Yang said this will allow students to monitor more detailed information about electrical energy uses in the building.

“Right now, most people get one electric bill per month, so you only know the total you used in electricity that month,” explained Yang. “With this system, we can monitor the energy generation/consumption for different equipment, labs and areas within the building. Instead of one bill a month, we can have more detailed information every five seconds or every five minutes, as often as we want.” Yang explained that analyzing this information will introduce students to concepts related to big data and the internet of things, both of which will give students an advantage in the workforce.

Yang said she is looking forward to the opportunities these projects will offer to not only students in the Collaborative Engineering Program, but also the community. “The solar system and the building-based microgrid offers the Collaborative Engineering Program faculty and students opportunities, through class design and research projects, to work on real-world electric circuits and gain hands-on, in-depth practical experience in different aspects such as power and energy, communication and electronics, optimization and control,” said Yang. “These projects can also provide live demos to attract more high school and pre-engineering students to study in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering majors, introduce state-of-the-art sustainable technologies to the community, and help various community buildings improve their energy efficiency.”

“UW-Platteville is excited about this new project at the UW-Fox Valley campus,” said Dr. D. Joanne Wilson, interim provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at UW-Platteville. “The collaborative engineering program has exceptional faculty and staff, as represented by Dr. Yang, who are working with UW-Platteville engineering students located in the eastern region of the state. The restructuring of the UW Colleges within the system has provided an opportunity for us to further collaborate with UW Oshkosh and offer the UW-Platteville engineering programs to students in the region. We are pleased that UW Oshkosh is interested in pursuing this partnership.”

For more information about UW-Platteville’s Collaborative Engineering Program, visit www.uwplatt.edu/collaborative-engineering.
 

Written by: Alison Parkins, associate director of public relations, Communications, 608-342-1194, parkinsal@uwplatt.edu.

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