“It was a week filled with lots of knowledge, a focus on the future and inspiring sights to keep us hungry for more, “ said Matt Aberman, senior electrical engineering student at University of Central Florida and second year FEEDER workshop attendee. “It wasn’t unusual for the days to go longer than scheduled. We asked lots of questions,” he laughed.
For the third year, FEEDER, Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources at the University of Central Florida, offered a week long, intensive workshop for engineering students in its consortium of universities (Auburn University, Florida State University, University of Arkansas, University of Central Florida, University of Florida, University of Kentucky, University of Pittsburgh and University of South Carolina). This year’s five-day intensive for 30 students, both graduate and undergraduate at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), gave the students an exclusive opportunity to study at one of the most advanced research facilities for renewable energy in the world.
FEEDER, one of three regional consortiums in the Distributed Technology Training Consortia (DTTC), is part of the Grid Engineering for Accelerated Renewable Energy Deployment (GEARED) initiative. Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) SunShot Initiative, GEARED is preparing current and future electric utility sector professionals specifically to work with high penetrations of solar electricity and other distributed technologies onto the grid. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), in collaboration with DOE, serves as GEARED’s national administrator.
Students’ days were a combination of classroom lectures on distributed energy, inverter-based technologies and distribution systems, along with tours to NREL’s world-class test facilities including its Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), Advanced Distribution, Management System (ADMS), National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) and the NREL wind site. FEEDER faculty from universities of Central Florida, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Kentucky, Arkansas and South Carolina and NREL scientists taught the classes.
But before students became immersed in modeling, microgrids, power electronics and PV integration, they toured some of Colorado’s stunning natural sites: Red Rocks Amphitheater, Dinosaur Ridge and Mount Evans, at 14,240 feet, the highest summit of the Chicago Peaks in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
On day 2, students were divided into eight groups and assigned to research a state with inherently unique energy-related policy and infrastructure challenges. At the end of the week, students shared their research results on California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, New York, South Carolina and Texas in 15-minute presentations.
Their research considered:
- Evaluation of renewables conventional generation demand response and DER opportunities;
- Challenges to meeting energy targets;
- Potential solutions based on course information;
- Broader energy impacts of land use; and
- Aging infrastructure, cost of generation, CO2
Larry Holloway, interim dean, college of engineering, University of Kentucky, was involved in the development of the program. “We wanted to make sure the program offered a blend of different activities from lectures, technical tours, exercises and non-technical activities. NREL was an excellent location for the program since it exposed the students to some of the exciting things happening at the lab.”
For Emma Raszmann, electrical engineering undergraduate, University of Pittsburgh, Swanson School of Engineering, the NREL week long workshop couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. “I’m currently interning at NREL this summer,” she said, “and the FEEDER workshop took place the week before I started. It was a perfect transition into my summer internship and provided a great overview of topics relevant to my summer research.”
Student evaluations from the workshop revealed a strong interest in more use of the computer tools for modeling and simulation. “Although we have some of this within our existing curriculum, I think that we should consider expanding this in our curriculum at University of Kentucky,” said Holloway.
Not so surprisingly, students really liked interactions with other students, faculty from other institutions and the NREL staff. “I think it’s important to network outside of your home university to gain new perspectives, to see how your school’s program can evolve – one of the main purposes of the FEEDER program,” said Raszmann.
Student presentations on the final day were the culmination of the week’s studies. Did you know Texas leads the nation in CO2 emissions and ranks first in wind energy capacity and solar potential? (Actually, I did.) In 15 slides, Aberman, Raszmann and Melanie Gonzalez of Team Texas provided comprehensive energy data about my home state’s current energy challenges and potential solutions.
Although the project was primarily a research assignment, it was also an exercise in communication and cooperation because the project teamed students from different institutions. “Students gain broader perspectives through these multi-institution interactions which is helpful as they develop research and professional directions,” said Holloway.
Perhaps even more striking are the students’ comments that their research will make an impact in the world. “If our goal is to help drive the future of the grid forward, we must be able to understand the connection between our research and how it applies to real world challenges we will ultimately be solving,” wrote one student.
For Aberman, visiting NREL was transformative. “After witnessing the current ongoing research from FEEDER faculty and students and the types of work NREL is working on, I couldn’t be more excited. I feel right at home studying and working in this industry. This is absolutely where I would like to spend my career.”