SIU’s Green Roof Team designing a better future in Solar Competition

Southern Illinois University’s Green Roof Team recently became finalists in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition.

Taking place through the HeroX platform, the goal of the competition is to “design and model a solar-plus-storage system for a district that maximizes energy offset and financial savings over the contracted or useful life to the system,” according to the HeroX website.

The Green Roof team consists of SIU students and students from other universities and different major programs to use their skills together to design the solar energy system.

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Team members include leader and mechanical engineering senior Nelson Fernandes, electrical engineering senior Olivia Sapp, computer science senior Stephen Schulte, electrical engineering junior Aron Taylor, and mathematics senior Tomas Copher.

Members not from SIU include SIU alumnus Gustavo Felicio, who’s currently working on his doctorate at the University of Texas at Dallas and Hein Htet Aung from Case Western Reserve University.

“In the fall semester, we focused on designing a grid-connected photovoltaic system or PV system,” Fernandes said. “Essentially, in this setup, you have […] solar panels on buildings or in areas, and they’re wired directly into the grid.”

Fernandes said, since the university is in a clean energy area, this is the perfect competition and opportunity for learning while staying close by.

“They had a specific course that they provided every competitor on heap spring, which is the most popular course platform for solar installers, so anything, so anyone wants to become a solar installer, every contractor, they take a course,” Fernandes said

Fernandes said the main contribution relies on engineering analysis.

“My main role is to focus more on the impact analysis side,” Fernandes said. “Then just overall, ensuring that everyone has resources at their disposal and no one has many obstacles in their way and maturing that in terms of project management.”

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The team has a weekly webinar with professionals focused on the use of software and other advanced features and goes through uses and limitations and discusses them.

“That’s part of one of the best parts of the competition,” Fernandes said. “Their focus on the educational side and having weekly webinars where they tackle a different part of the project and being super responsive by email and having office hours throughout the week.”

Sapp said the team is designing the PV solar system for Ohio State University’s medical campus.

“[It] involves everything from project management to designing the system on a building like sizing it,” Sapp said. “Choosing which modules we want to do because solar is a really big renewable energy these days.”

There’s also the financial aspect of the system, where you take into account the cost and zoning codes to comply with any region building limitations, and learn the process of designing the system, Sapp said.

“Is it going to be reliable and how much rate of return they’re going to have?” Sapp said. “Is it going to benefit them [people] both by providing them energy and saving them money?”

Sapp’s main contribution is conceptual design, she said.

“So we’re using a software online called Aurora Solar,” Sapp said. “In there, you can design the system visually, input a module on a building size it and […] you simulate it to see how it runs, how much energy is it producing, how much that’s going to save you cost-wise because it gives you the option to input cost per watt.”

Sapp said she has also been working with team member Felicio on conceptual and getting more into the financial aspect of the competition.

“This next competition phase includes battery storage,” Sapp said. “Not only are you producing energy, but you’re going to be able to store that energy and then use it at night.”

Sapp said being able to get help from professionals by being in this competition has been a good learning experience for her and her team members.

“The feedback helps from submitting our progress deliverable in the fall,” Sapp said. “They told us[…] what we could tweak to make it better and more reliable and the webinars are definitely helpful.”

Sapp said the webinars lean toward topics focused on things in the competition like the distribution system impact and battery storage.

The director of SIU’s School of Mechanical, Aerospace & Materials Engineering, Dr. Kanchan Mondal, was the person who helped the Green Roof Team get involved in the contest.

“I actually go out looking for student competitions all the time […] national student conference(s) so that I can get our students to participate,” Mondal said. “What we have is amazing students. Sometimes we [are] a little low on funding, but I know they are resourceful enough to use whatever they have and still come up on top.”

Mondal said he regularly looks for competitions for students in the department and college. Whether it’s a cyber competition or a robotics competition, he takes his information and sends it to the proper school director.

He said he brought the solar competition to Fernandes’s attention, also recommending he have an interdisciplinary team for it.

“I talked to Nelson and told him ‘you have to have an interdisciplinary team, not some people who are good with the materials for that particular project.’ Some people who know the theory [behind that] project electrical engineers would be able to contribute. […] “I asked him to basically put up a team together and his go to team was the green roof team,” Mondal said.

Mondal said the team doesn’t have a faculty advisor, but he does keep up with the team’s progress and help them with energy management.

Fernades said he feels good about the team’s progress towards the next phase of the competition with the help of feedback they get for their design.

“We’re using that feedback along with addition of energy storage to help improve upon it,” Fernandes said. “Between their feedback and us asking great questions to the right people and having a lot of support behind us, we’re looking well and are confident in a great final product.”

Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis. To stay up to date with all your southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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