Say Hello to the New Power Engineering Workforce
Thanks to Matthew Aberman, Jason Balog, Drs. Larry Holloway and Jeff Seay for contributing to this article
“Like drinking from a fire hose,” says Larry Holloway, Ph.D. That vision captures the massive flow of information consumed by 21 graduate and undergraduate engineering students who recently spent five days touring 10 power and energy-oriented facilities across the southeast as part of the FEEDER 2015 Summer Power Experiences Program at the University of Kentucky. Holloway is director of the Power and Energy Institute of Kentucky, and lead for the summer program.
Included in the site visits and technical tours were wind, solar, hydro, supercritical coal, gas turbine, pumped storage, transmission control center, smart grid demonstration site and power distribution sites.
This was the second year FEEDER offered the program for 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). FEEDER stands for Foundations for Engineering Education for Distributed Energy Resources. The Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, serves as national administrator of GEARED.
“The students were exposed to a tremendous amount of content, through their pre-readings, the discussions with the engineers/operators, and seeing everything,” said Holloway. “Students taking the course for credit had required readings and writing assignments prior to the visits. Graduate students were required to do a journaling assignment for submission at the end.”
The program was possible because UKy offered a semester-long version of this course over the past four years. “Our prior experiences gave us familiarity with the sites and the personal connections with many of the site engineers,” said Holloway.
Although the days were long, the students were actively engaged and participated.
“There was a lot to learn. I’m still catching my breath,” said Matthew Aberman University of Central Florida electrical engineering student who will graduate in 2016, and member of FEEDER’s Student Innovation Board. “The 2MW solar farm at Ft. Knox was stunning, thorough and inspiring for me to hopefully replicate some of their systems at UCF.”
Holloway lauded the support of FEEDER’s industrial partners and connections. “We had some tremendous behind-the-scenes looks that very few people get. Site staffs were extremely knowledgeable, making it easy for our students to ask questions of the engineers and operators. They really valued the interaction.”
Not only did the students get up-close-and-personal with the technologies, they got a lesson in economics. At the 500MW Meadow Lake wind farm in Chalmers, Indiana, students learned that wind power is a cash crop. Farmers who lease their land to turbines earn $5,000-$8,000 per year per turbine. “Talk about maximizing a half acre of land,” said Aberman.
Post-workshop evaluations revealed the students valued the background preparation.
“They said the extra work prepared them with a good background and understanding of the technologies,” said Holloway. “It enabled them to ask thoughtful questions and inspired critical thinking.”
Dr. Jeff Seay, instructor for the workshop, agreed. “The students pre-work is important for helping the students get the most from the visits.”
Students toured the Duke Energy Envision Center, a demonstration center with a movie set feel, showcasing smart grid technologies. “It was a neat learning facility,” said Aberman. At the EKPC Bavarian landfill gas power plant, the chartered bus took the students to the top of the landfill so they could see how the trash was moved around the site. “The plant only generates 3.2MW of power but it reduces all of the greenhouse gas emissions from the landfill. It’s very beneficial,” said Jason Balog, senior EE at UCF.
Despite the intensive schedule, Holloway is pleased with this year’s program. “The week format this summer worked much better regarding scheduling for students, although it required a lot of coordination up front. Students commented that some of the sites should have been full-day visits, and a few students felt the program should have been several days longer! Still, the students got a great mix of energy sites. This is really a tremendous opportunity for them.”
Student comments from post-program evaluations bear this out.
“Understanding the economics behind the engineering and applying the course materials…this is real motivation for a career in power engineering,” declared Aberman.
Images: courtesy of Matthew Aberman and Dr. Larry Holloway