KU News Release


April 15, 2011
Contact: Cody Howard, School of Engineering, 785-864-2936

Engineering students take part in national smart grid competition

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LAWRENCE — A team of students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering is heading to the nation’s capital to compete against teams from more than 50 universities from around the country for a $75,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The money would enable the students to build a large-scale version of an innovative small-scale smart grid they designed and built this year after earning a $10,000 grant from the EPA.

Seven members of the KU EcoHawks will be on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., for the People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) Student Design Competition for Sustainability, sponsored by the EPA. The competition, to be held April 16-17, aims to provide college students with hands-on experience that brings classroom learning to life. The best ideas from the competition receive $75,000 in funding to take those designs to real-world application.

“There’s no question, we’re definitely going to wow some people, because no other school has done this proof of concept,” said Bryan Strecker, a member of the KU EcoHawks smart grid team and first-year graduate student.

The small-scale smart grid the EcoHawks will display at the P3 competition harnesses and stores energy from multiple sources and allows the consumer to select what type of power source is utilized and when.

“Basically, we have three different power sources,” Strecker said. “We have a generator, which serves as a traditional coal-fired power source and we have two sources of renewable energy, solar and wind. Then, the smart grid ties them all together so we can use them strategically to get the best efficiency and best power usage out of everything.”

A simple flip of a switch allows the user to determine which power source the smart grid draws from, and the team is able to monitor the system’s energy input and output onsite in real-time through a laptop that draws its power from the smart grid.

“We have 14 switches to direct the energy to wherever we want at any given time,” Strecker said. “We can charge multiple things simultaneously and we can do them individually. We wanted to have that freedom with the system. That’s what the customer is going to like and that’s key to our success at the competition.”

The team also built into their design an eco-friendly way to make a fun snack, though it looks like they won’t get the opportunity to fully utilize it at the competition.

“We included a popcorn popper to show how our smart grid incorporates household appliances and because we know precisely how much power it uses,” Strecker said. “Since we knew exactly how much current it was going to be drawing, we were able to size the rest of our components around that. Plus, our adviser really likes popcorn. But sadly, we just found out that we can’t give it out on the National Mall, because teams aren’t allowed to serve concessions or give out food.”

Although the team is confident of success at the P3 competition, even if things don’t turn out as they hope, team members say the project has still been a rewarding experience.

“EcoHawks is a great program,” Strecker said. “Everybody is involved. We’re really excited to be doing this, and it really gives us an opportunity to really sink our teeth into some new and upcoming technologies.”

Students who are team members of EcoHawks are listed below by hometown, level in school, major, parents’ names and high schools.

DOUGLAS COUNTY
From Lawrence 66044 and Espanola, N.M.
Len Edward Necefer, senior in mechanical engineering; Edward Necefer (Lawrence) and Maggie George (Espanola); Armand Hammer United World College, Montezuma, N.M.

From Lawrence 66049
Shelton Philip Heilman, senior in mechanical engineering; Steve and Sally Heilman; Lawrence Free State High School.

JOHNSON COUNTY
From Olathe 66062
Lee M. Clemon, senior in mechanical engineering; Lonnie and Doloros Clemen; Olathe South High School.

MONTGOMERY COUNTY
From Coffeyville 67337
Andrew Foster Moore, senior in business administration and mechanical engineering; Nancy Moore; associate’s degree from Coffeyville Community College; Field Kindley Memorial High School.

SHAWNEE COUNTY
From Topeka 66604
Bryan A. Strecker, master’s student in mechanical engineering; bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering; William and Angie Strecker; Hayden High School.

NEBRASKA
From Lincoln 68516
Jonathan Michael Stearns Mattson, senior in mechanical engineering; Ruth Stearns and Michael Mattson; Lincoln Southwest High School.

NEW MEXICO
From Espanola 87532 and Lawrence, Kan.
Len Edward Necefer. SEE DOUGLAS COUNTY

ENGLAND
From London
Nicholas James Surface, master’s student in mechanical engineering; bachelor’s degree from University of London.


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