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Practical Issues Encountered in Building an Integrated Photovoltaic-Hydro-Biofuel Electrical Power System in a Remote Location as a Student Project

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Project-Based Education in Energy Curriculum

Tagged Division

Energy Conversion and Conservation

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1164.1 - 22.1164.11



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Paper Authors


Herbert L. Hess University of Idaho

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Herbert L. "Herb" Hess received the Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1993. He then joined the University of Idaho where he is Professor of Electrical Engineering. His work is in power electronic converters, great and small, alternative energy systems, power quality, energy storage electronics, and on-chip designs of energy management systems. In ASEE, he is currently Program Chair of the Instrumentation Division and is immediate past chair of the ECE Division and a past chair of the ECC Division.

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Practical Issues Encountered in Building  an Integrated Photovoltaic—Hydro—Biofuel Electrical Power System  in a Remote Location as a Student Project In 2009, the National Science Foundation awarded a grant to a two-state university consortiumfor interdisciplinary research in electrical energy and biology research in a remote wildernesslocation. The first part of the project was to build an integrated power system consisting of a4.5kW photovoltaic array, a 1.0kW hydroelectric turbine generator, and a 3.0kW automotivegenerator capable of running on certain biofuels. This project provided electrical energynecessary to perform the experiments and collect the data to complete the biological part of the$600K project. The design of this system began with a senior undergraduate design phase thatwas described in a paper presented at ASEE last year.This paper addresses the issues encountered in installation and the first half year of performance.At the end of the senior project, the basic design was complete. Appropriate components hadbeen purchased and tested in lab: a controller-inverter, batteries, photovoltaic panels with aninterface, the turbine and its interface, and a high voltage transmission line designed to link thephotovoltaics with storage to the turbine and biofuel generator. Artificial light tested the panels;the hydraulics lab was rented to test the turbine and its interface. Though reduced-scaleoperation in the lab showed that the system should perform, the senior project found thatimproved data collection would be necessary. Some modifications were necessary for thetransmission line, though simply a redesign of the transformer housing was the biggest issue.The remaining equipment for a full-scale system was ordered and moved in nine loads by lightplane to the remote site.The work was assigned to a student who worked full time on site from April to July 2010. Hetrenched the site and laid the conduit and cable, working with the university facilitieselectricians. He supervised building of a powerhouse to contain the batteries, controller,transformer, and photovoltaic interface. He found that frost had destroyed the incumbentpenstock that fed the proposed turbine location. This was redesigned with consultation with hisCivil Engineering partner. There was a legal issue that limited the turbine’s electrical capacity.A faulty interface to the transformer burned out a terminal block and required a new design toensure safe and trouble-free operation. All the data collected by a commercial controller wasinterfaced to a satellite Internet for storage on the university’s main campus; this requiredsignificant programming of the hardware and coordination with university informationtechnology service workers.The system was completed in July and delivered to the customer. Over the next several months,data automatically collected with the university, showing operation hour-by-hour. The paperwill examine this data, showing trends and patterns that are typical of the application and remotesite. Appropriate documentation of the equipment after a season’s work will be presented withcustomer feedback. Recommendations for improved maintenance for longer and more reliablelife will be discussed. Photographs of the system in operation will be shown.  

Hess, H. L. (2011, June), Practical Issues Encountered in Building an Integrated Photovoltaic-Hydro-Biofuel Electrical Power System in a Remote Location as a Student Project Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18574

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