375803 A Laboratory Tool for Distributed Solar PV Systems Education

Wednesday, November 19, 2014: 4:50 PM
M106 - M107 (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
Xiaohui Liu1, James Dietz2, Russell P. Lachance3, Andrew Biaglow3, Derrick Kearney4, Sudheera Fernando4, Ann Christine Catlin4 and Joseph Pekny1, (1)Chemical Engineering, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, (2)Computer and Information Technology, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, (3)Chemistry and Life Science, United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, (4)Rosen Center for Advanced Computing, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN

Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems have been used extensively for residential applications. There are also several programs that promote the installation of solar PV systems in the US, such as the California Solar Initiative (CSI) program which provides cash back for solar energy systems for existing homes. As a result, educators have an opportunity to provide a broad based understanding of solar PV systems and promote greater awareness of the technology as it spreads. Some universities are providing master’s degree courses in solar energy. However at the undergraduate level, solar energy is mainly the subject of a curriculum of engineering and energy courses. We seek to augment available educational materials with practical hands-on experience in the nature and design of solar PV systems. We believe that hands-on education is critical to the evolution of energy systems, so that a broad base of people can understand the basics of how energy systems work. Widespread understanding is important for developing rational policy and building the consensus needed for the large capital expenditures required for energy systems.

A laboratory simulation tool was developed for distributed solar PV systems based on an energy system research model. The simulation tool was organized to (1) explore electricity usage patterns, (2) study the time and regional availability of solar energy, (3) design a solar PV system, and (4) compare business cases for different designs. To maximize applicability and interest, the simulation tool allows students to customize electricity demand to match household characteristics, change weather assumptions, select system location, and vary the solar module area and energy storage capacity.  The simulation tool was applied to one graduate course and two undergraduate courses as a lab project. A questionnaire was created and applied for undergraduate students both before and after the lab project. Comparison of the pre and post survey results demonstrates that the tool successfully helped students learn about solar PV systems: (1) 65% of the students believe that their knowledge of solar PV systems after finishing the lab project is equal to or above medium level and (2) 91% of the students claimed that they are more likely to accept solar PV systems based on what they have learned in this project.  Finally, in order to greatly increase availability and potential use, a refined user interface has been created and the tool has been published online using Purdue University Hub Technology as part of the NanoHub. The tool is named as “SolarPV” and can be accessed at: https://nanohub.org/tools/solarpv .

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