Published: Tue May 31, 2011
Under sunny skies, a solar power station designed and built by a group of Tennessee Tech University seniors runs a small fountain and lights a sign.
Six electrical engineering majors spent the year researching, designing and building the solar station, which generates an average of 150 watts of electricity under sunny conditions. That is enough to power several light bulbs.
The project was for their senior capstone design course in electrical engineering. The team was one of 14 projects given to TTU from a variety of companies and industries, including the Nashville Electric Service, LTA Projects, Schneider Electric, and the Arnold Engineering Development Center, housed at Arnold Air Force Base.
TTU’s department of electrical and computer engineering sponsored the solar station to educate the public about alternative energy. It took about 20 feet of wire and two solar panels as well as at least a few all-night work sessions to get the system up and running once the design was completed.
“It’s an A to Z project, from paper design to hardware development and testing,” Ali Alouani, electrical and computer engineering professor who mentors all the capstone projects, said. “When you get to the real world and try to design and build something, it’s not as easy as doing a computer simulation. In this course, students learn how difficult it is to actually integrate the hardware and software to make something work.”
The team spent hours programming, configuring the design of the circuits and the 7-foot-tall wooden frame to hold the panels, sustaining several electric shocks to their fingers and blowing out a few of the system components.
“You can power anything with electricity, but we wanted to make something flashy,” student Micah Till of Ooltewah, Tenn., said. “The capstone pulls together everything we’ve done before. “
Every electrical engineering student has to complete the design capstone; other student projects included building robots, harvesting energy from natural heat sources and controls for telecommunications towers.
The solar team included Till, Jessica Dunaway, Mitchell Bible, Matthew Griffin, John Savage and Parisa Radman. The system they designed will be dismantled and put into storage until its final destination is decided.
“You can see a lot of maturity in these kids and an increase in their confidence level after they successfully complete their capstone design project,” Alouani said. “Our students have a unique experience with the capstone design program at our department and we are very proud of that.”