Nain project prepares new graduates for real-world collaboration
A community-based final project provided both inspiration and an opportunity to apply technical concepts they learned in class, say some recent Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science graduates.
All mechanical engineering students are required to complete a final project. While there are a broad range of choices available, including both theoretical and applied projects, Sara King, along with classmates Zachary Green, Erin Perfect and Craig MacInnis, felt strongly that they wanted to work on a real-life challenge.
As Ms. King explained, "Working on a real problem makes it easier to relate and to work towards a solution,” said Ms. King. “It provides you with a goal."
After a discussion with their professor, Dr. Kevin Pope, the group’s members decided to focus their attention on an ongoing problem: how to provide reliable power to rural and remote areas of Newfoundland and Labrador.
“We looked at integrating renewable energy resources into the community of Nain,” Ms. King said. “They’re an off-the-grid community, which means they aren’t connected to the provincial energy grid. Generating electricity within the community is a big problem for them.”
The only source of energy for the residents of Nain is diesel fuel. Optimizing a renewable energy source and diesel generator power system for Nain by integrating renewable energy sources to their current system would lessen the community’s dependency on diesel, which would lower costs per household.
For the project, the students worked closely with Dr. Pope and representatives from Nalcor Energy.
"They helped us out all the way along, sharing their experiences from other communities so we would be better able to pinpoint the specific needs of Nain," said Ms. King.
The students considered wind energy and energy storage as the primary options for integration, and did the majority of their analysis using HOMER software, which was created for the design and optimization of hybrid energy systems.
They also considered proper inputs, such as wind and load data, renewable energy systems manufacturer information and cost and analyzed the annual electrical load and wind resources available in Nain.
After thorough research, wind turbines were deemed an economically feasible option for the community, where cost saving is measured though reduction in fuel consumption.
The students also conducted an informal question-and-answer session with a Nain resident to gain a better understanding of how residents of the community would feel about the installation of wind turbines there.
Once complete, the students said that they were impressed by the degree of difficulty of the project, as well as the team work required for a relatively small project such as this one.
“I don’t think we were fully aware of how complex the whole thing was,” said Zachary Green. “There was a lot to take into account that we didn’t know until we got into it. There was a lot of learning.”
Dr. Pope isn’t surprised that the project gave the students a different experience than what they were accustomed to. Aside from the chance to apply their technical skills, applied projects help add a tangible element to students’ work.
“Community projects provide them with valuable exposure to potential career paths, technological limitations and socio-economic considerations,” he said. “They’re generally quite delighted to collaborate on real-life projects and enthusiastic to apply their skills outside the classroom.”
When asked what another student might gain from working on a community-based final project, both Ms. King and Mr. Green emphasize that it gave them a better understanding for what it means to be an engineer in Newfoundland and Labrador.
“It’s going to give you an appreciation for what’s going on in your province,” said Ms. King.