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Educating Engineering Students On Energy Systems Through Investor Driven Class Projects

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Sustainable-energy Education: Lessons Learned

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.506.1 - 14.506.20

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Paper Authors


Tom Ferguson University of Minnesota, Duluth

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Tom Ferguson is a Visiting 3M McKnight Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He holds Bachelor's and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Minnesota. He is a retired utility operations and engineering executive, a registered professional engineer, and a consultant to the industry.

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Paul Weber University of Minnesota, Duluth

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Paul J. Weber is a Temporary Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Since completing his Ph.D. at Michigan Tech in 2006, he has taught courses in digital and computer systems as well as electronics and circuit analysis. His research interests include renewable energy, energy efficiency, distributed control, and engineering education.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Educating Engineering Students on Energy Systems Through Investor-Driven Class Projects


Efficient use of energy resources is becoming increasingly important with respect to minimizing climate change, decreasing financial burdens associated with energy use, and enabling national goals of energy independence. This can only be achieved, however, if engineers of all disciplines have a sound understanding of energy issues as they design their systems. Such facets include not only conversion technology, but also resource availability, energy delivery, policy, reliability, and short and long-term financial, social, and environmental costs.

This paper will describe class projects in energy conversion that attempt to raise awareness in these areas, and do so with respect to a diverse group of senior and graduate engineering students. For the projects, students chose a conversion technology primarily for electric power generation, wrote a paper outlining why they supported or opposed its implementation, and then presented their research to their peers. Meanwhile, the entire class was split up into groups of short and long term investors and given a pool of money to allocate to a variety of technologies and sources to create a true energy portfolio. They could then make their investment decisions as they listened to each of the presentations.

The quantifiable results of the course comprise two snapshots of the students’ perceptions. At the beginning of the class, students completed a survey about general energy issues. The students’ perceptions were also compiled upon completion of the project through their investment decisions and a set of associated questions. The results were analyzed with respect to engineering major and also compared to the general population and professionals with a background in energy issues from publicly available surveys and/or governmental energy forecasts. In addition to these results, this research will illustrate the implementation of such class projects, describe common student strengths and weaknesses relative to energy conversion, and explain the importance of defining appropriate prerequisites for a diversity of engineering majors.

1. Introduction

Energy touches every aspect of human behavior, spanning a spectrum of use that ranges from powering the human body to satisfying creative and recreational needs. The complexity of its various uses, forms, and means of transport is complicated further by the level of required investment, lengthy planning and implementation timelines, and public policies (including environmental protection). Public awareness on energy is continuously shaped by the media – by way of both journalism and the advertising messages of special interest entities – and is sometimes shaped with incorrect or misleading information (a survey of journalists found that over 70% of the respondents believed that sources such as lobbying organizations and special interest groups were not credible sources6 even though they account for a significant quantity of advertising on broadcast, cable, and the Internet). If the United States and indeed all countries of the world are to develop long-term, strategic, sustainable policies on energy, we must involve the

Ferguson, T., & Weber, P. (2009, June), Educating Engineering Students On Energy Systems Through Investor Driven Class Projects Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas.

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