TTU opens TVA Power Relay Lab; ECE students to benefit from $500,000 facility

Academic and real-world experience often differ, but our new $500,000 TVA Power Relay Lab brings the two experiences into perfect sync for electrical and computer engineering students.

The recently opened lab features leading-edge power sub-station digital relay and switching equipment -- the same equipment TVA and worldwide power providers expect to use for years to come. TVA Protection and Control Manager James Kurtz, who was instrumental for the lab's creation, says it's essential for his company to have students better equipped to enter the workforce.

"Education should be a cooperative effort on the part of our business and academic communities," says Kurtz. "As the world continues grow smaller, America must actively compete for jobs and economic opportunities.

"As technology changes, so do educational and professional expectations, and so academic institutions should re-evaluate their curriculums for power engineering design," says Kurtz. "TTU is taking a leading-edge approach in establishing this power lab."

In the TVA Power Relay Lab, the equipment is the same type of equipment TVA chose when replacing the old-fashioned electro-mechanical substations with multifunction digital relays, also widely known as Intelligent Electronic Device or IED, that form the back-bone of the next-generation substation with digital and fiber connections. Students are able to set and test digital relays, select current and voltage transformers, determine relays and transformer taps, conduct research, and test their protection design schemes in a laboratory environment.

David Gao, the assistant ECE professor responsible for attracting industry support for the lab, as well as its setup and operation, says at least one other major entity, Square D/Schneider Electric, has joined TVA in supporting the lab. With a recent donation of $75,000 worth of relays and equipment, Square D/Schneider Electric solidified its relationship with the program.

"Our senior design team, a group of five seniors working on a capstone design project, is the first to benefit from the lab," said Gao. "We will use these relays in the teaching of our undergraduate power sequence course and graduate protection course."

Gao says TTU's power engineering teaching and research program will be greatly enhanced by the lab and, most importantly, relay engineering knowledge first-hand from industry practitioners. He says the connection and collaboration between industries and TTU facilitated by TVA will be crucial for students' future success in the power industry.

ECE Chairperson Stephen Parke says this lab is part of a series of planned industry-sponsored teaching and research lab facility upgrades extending through 2020 through a project called "The ECE 2020 Vision."

"We are engaging in a renewed and reinvigorated effort to dramatically improve the quality of our curriculum, laboratories, industry interaction and especially our product--talented, well-trained electrical and computer engineering graduates," he says.

Parke says TVA's relationship with TTU has greatly benefited the ECE program over the past several years. He says there are many possible additional uses for the lab, including annual power engineering short courses for area engineers who need continuing education credits.

TVA vendors that contributed to the project include Siemens, ABB, Omicron, Ruggedcom, and ETAP.   Donations from other companies such as Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory are in process. The lab is located in Brown Hall, Room 413.