John Brown University (JBU) is charged for electricity usage based on two measurements: the peak power (i.e. demand) within the recent 12 months and the amount of energy used (i.e. kWh). As the demand is a factor that currently contributes to the bill to the campus, it has been an interest of JBU to minimize the demand as much as possible to reduce the electricity cost.
In 2013 summer, a 10 kW photovoltaic (PV) system was installed on the roof of the engineering building on the university campus. While this installed PV system had a goal of reducing the peak power and the energy usage of the engineering building, the principal aim of the installation was to provide opportunities to engineering students to better understand how installed PV systems operate with the connection to the current grid and how return-on-investment (ROI) could be analyzed. In particular, as there are not many students who have experienced the demand charge that utilities charge to commercial customers, JBU has tried to use this system as a learning tool for students to realize the demand charge impact on the electricity cost.
From 2014 to 2016, a team of undergraduate engineering students has developed a monitoring system that could track the PV generation and the power usage of the building. A primary goal of this project was to determine the installed PV system’s contribution to lowering the demand charge. Since this measurement of contribution could not be determined without the real-time collected data sets, the student team focused on gathering data sets from the PV system and building’s power meter. With the collected data sets, how much the PV system contributed to lowering the cost of electricity usage and whether installed PV modules reduced the demand peak were analyzed.
Additionally, this paper discusses what has been learned through this student-led project and how hands-on activities on renewable energy sources could be used for students to understand the power system economics better.
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