The future is looking bright for four students in The University of Texas-Pan American's electrical engineering program.
Graduating seniors Gabriel Benavides, Roberto Morales and Beny Vasquez and senior Emile Kowalski (who will graduate in 2012) won first place in the undergraduate division of the Center for the Commercialization of Electric Technologies (CCET)/Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) Region 5 Student Design Contest earlier this year. In addition to a trophy, the team won $2,000.
The CCET is a Texas nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the safety, reliability, security and efficiency of electric transmission and distribution systems through research, development and commercialization of emerging technologies. CCET is composed of 26 electric utilities and high-tech companies and five universities.
The IEEE is the world's largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity. Region 5 comprises chapters from Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, southwestern Missouri and Colorado.
Contestants were asked to create an energy management system for homes equipped with renewable energy usage and storage and that could calculate energy costs using real-time pricing utility rates.
The UTPA team focused their system on photovoltaic energy sources - solar power that is converted into direct current electricity - and developed a prototype that monitors how much energy is consumed throughout the day to optimize energy consumption and cost. The student's design would allow energy providers to calculate energy usage in real time, rather than by kilowatt hours, so that consumers can purchase and sell back energy.
"This system is not only good for the customer - because they earn money - but also good for the companies because they get help from their customers to help satisfy those peak times when they're required to have more energy production," Vasquez said.
Their product also allows energy consumers to go green by encouraging them to install solar power systems, the team members said.
In addition to designing the prototype, the students had to conduct an economic analysis to make sure their product would be feasible financially, as well as a weather analysis to determine how the system would work best.
Although it was not required, the team members took their prototype to the IEEE Region 5 meeting in Baton Rouge, La. last month to show to judges and representatives of energy companies.
Chief executive officers and engineers of energy companies, as well as engineers from other types of businesses, were interested in interacting with the prototype, Benavides said.
"I think it paid off because the other teams just brought the poster. (Our prototype) grabbed a lot of attention," Vasquez said.
For more information about UTPA's electrical engineering program, visit the department's website.