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Icon for: LIPING GUO

LIPING GUO

Northern Illinois University

Interactive Virtual Laboratory: Using Renewable Energy Experiments to Enhance...

NSF Awards: 1712146

2021 (see original presentation & discussion)

Grades 9-12, Undergraduate

Demand for energy continues to increase with the global population on the rise. Renewable energy resources such as solar and wind power have experienced rapid growth in the past decade. Distributed power generations systems based on renewable energy sources provide an effective solution to reduce dependency on conventional power generation and to increase reliability and quality.

This project created integrated learning materials for distributed power generation systems. Latest technologies in communication, computing and control are used to build future smart grids. However, connecting many renewable energy sources to the network introduces different dynamics to the system. The grid can become unstable and even fail if the distributed sources are not properly controlled. Students need classic power system knowledge combined with communication, computing and control to study the modern smart grids. Although the current curriculum includes these components, they are scattered in different courses, and students don’t have an integrated platform to study distributed generation (DG) as a system. Cost and space requirement also give special challenges to establish and upgrade a renewable energy laboratory for many academic institutions.

To address the issues, this project utilized networking and information technology to create a virtual laboratory of DG. The virtual laboratory is flexible and cost effective. It provides a structured learning platform, where students gradually achieved knowledge and skills while designing renewable energy systems and finding solutions to authentic energy-related problems. We used and evaluated the virtual lab in several engineering technology courses. The virtual lab is especially effective for online learning.  

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Discussion from the 2021 STEM For All Video Showcase (8 posts)
  • Icon for: Barry Fishman

    Barry Fishman

    Facilitator
    Professor
    May 11, 2021 | 03:50 p.m.

    An innovative project on an important topic. As more people advocate for "green energy," it is important for them to appreciate the complexities it introduces, especially for the existing grid. One thing I wasn't quite sure about from the video - the title is "Interactive Virtual Laboratory," but many of the examples include face-to-face (i.e., not virtual) education activities like the solar car competition. What parts of the project are virtual and what parts are not?

     
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    James Callahan
  • Icon for: LIPING GUO

    LIPING GUO

    Lead Presenter
    Professor
    May 12, 2021 | 10:47 a.m.

    Thank you very much for the comments. The main objective of the project is to develop the virtual lab. We also have the objectives to develop a prototype microgrid for demonstrations, and solar car competitions for high school students. The face-to-face activities are used to promote interest and awareness of renewable energy.  

     
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    James Callahan
  • Icon for: Margie Vela

    Margie Vela

    Facilitator
    Senior Program Manager
    May 11, 2021 | 11:32 p.m.

    This is a great project with potential for high impact for minorities and women in education.  I really like the integration of K-12 teams and interventions into the project. Were any of these components transitioned to the virtual environment? If not, are there any future plans to do so? Great work!!!

     
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    James Callahan
  • Icon for: LIPING GUO

    LIPING GUO

    Lead Presenter
    Professor
    May 12, 2021 | 10:50 a.m.

    Thank you very much for the comments. Currently we haven't transitioned the outreach activities to the virtual environment yet. This would be a great component for future activities!

     
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    James Callahan
  • Icon for: Lei Liu

    Lei Liu

    Researcher
    May 14, 2021 | 01:33 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing an interesting project, Liping. Energy is both a core idea and crosscutting concept in NGSS for K-12 science learning and it would be important to introduce green energy to the next generation. I assume there is a huge gap in terms of students' prior knowledge. In your project, what strategies did you deploy to address the various prior knowledge K-12 students may have on this topic?

     
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    James Callahan
  • Icon for: LIPING GUO

    LIPING GUO

    Lead Presenter
    Professor
    May 15, 2021 | 12:44 p.m.

    Thank you very much for the comments. We addresses the gap by giving presentations and demonstrations to the high school students to give them fundamental knowledge in green energy. We let college students mentor the high school students to design and build the solar cars. The benefits of hands-on activities include integrating knowledge of physics and math in a practical situation so that students experience science and technology in an authentic setting, thereby building their knowledge and skills across disciplinary bridges.

     
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    James Callahan
    Margie Vela
  • Icon for: Brian Foley

    Brian Foley

    Facilitator
    Professor
    May 15, 2021 | 03:53 p.m.

    It is so critical that we get the message out that renewable energy is the future and students can get started now in learning how to participate in the new economy. Distributed generation one of the new technologies that we need to develop. I really like how you are engaging students in K12, college students.

    How about the virtual laboratory?  Is that available for other teachers to use with their students?

     
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    James Callahan
  • Icon for: James Callahan

    James Callahan

    Informal Educator
    May 18, 2021 | 05:40 a.m.

    Dr. Liping Guo,

    Thank you for your very important work and for this quite informative video.

    We at the Mobile Climate Science Labs are definitely now followers of your work at Northern Illinois University.  We are very much in agreement, and our experience bears out: hands-on demos, labs and activities are essential for quality education on energy, including renewable energy.

    It would be wonderful to stay in touch, and look for opportunities for collaboration, in support of your work.

    We too have been working hard to adapt to pandemic conditions, when historically our methods too involve sharing hands-on science and engineering in-person with hundreds of thousands of students and families each year.  How can we most effectively go virtual? -- or, in our case, make available interactive LIVE energy engineering labs that engage large groups remotely. 

    One thing has not changed: we certainly  will continue to draw from the current research and development at our local major institutions. In our case, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, the University of California at Berkeley, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    In our video, you can see a few of the locations where we share hands-on labs on renewable energy -- at least when not in the middle of a pandemic. Given the short nature of the video, the shots don't include close ups of the energy labs (such as those on solar power).  We generally provide labs on climate science alongside labs on engineering related to energy.  Solar photovoltaic and H2 & fuel cells are among our most frequent focuses in relation to renewable energy. 

    We would love to compare notes with you on what works best under remote (or virtual) conditions. Some labs and demos adapt well, others need to wait until presentations can safely be hands-on and in-person once again. One area of success we have had, in adapting to live remote, is to continue to utilize our short-wavelength infrared energy lab. Since the lab relies on light, comparing SWIR with visible light, the labs have always required SWIR cameras. The cameras still allow participants to be engaged remotely; not too much is lost not being in the in-person environment.  In fact, some discovery experiments even work better, as we socially can look at things more close up on screen.

    We have been able to continue to bring out an aspect of solar energy that is both very cool and that most people are not away of:  As you well know, solar photovoltaics, in order to be efficient, must be good at converting the SWIR portion of sunlight into electricity, not just the visible portion of sunlight. Happily, this can be demonstrated and explored effectively in the remote lab environment.  So, that's one successful example.

     Question: Have you had successes in demos and labs that explore principles of High Voltage Direct Current? 

    HVDC, as you know, being an important innovation that is especially valuable in relation to offshore wind power generation. (How to get large amounts of energy transmitted from platforms far out at sea back to dry land, when the route is under salt water.  Alternating current cables experience high losses when surrounded by sea water.)

    Obviously, neither of us is about to try to develop or promote labs / activities that handle the voltages of HVDC (hundreds of thousands of volts) -- Yikes, that would not be good!  Still, the principles of conversion stations (AC --> DC and DC --> AC) can be explored at very low voltages that are safe, yet make for interesting labs.

     

    Please note: CLEAN is very much an important resource collection on energy science, as well as for STEM on climate science. Katie Boyd and the staff at the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network are wonderful in working with programs like yours.  Your activities and labs are very valuable to educators -- whether hands-on or in a more virtual form. 

    Please consider sending Katie a message in our video's discussion section.

    Thank you, Dr. Liping Guo!

     
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    James Callahan
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