Project-Oriented Approach in Smart Grid Education
By Bálint Hartmann, István Vokony, István Táczi and, Bálint Sinkovics
The concept of smart grid is an integral part of power engineering. It is a timely task to involve it as a part of regular education as well. In parallel to technological development, concepts in the higher education are also evolving with a more emphasis on the competencies, which can be useful in work environment after graduation. The Department of Electric Power Engineering at Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) has aligned the needs of required processes during the development of new smart grid related courses.
In 2018, the Department of Electric Power Engineering of BME celebrated 125th anniversary of the founding of its legal predecessor, the Department of Electrotechnics, which was the origin of power engineering education in Hungary. The historical aspect also creates an opportunity to examine education from the perspective of technical history in terms of teaching system, course forms, the structure of the departments and composition of the taught subjects are all describing an era, covering the professional-scientific knowledge and equipment of that state. Due to the rich scientific history, the Department of Electric Power Engineering has been the leader among other respective academic institutions in Hungary. This is ensured by its exceptional position and aspirations of the current teaching community, whether it is the introduction of new international experience by expanding the laboratory equipment or even educational approaches.
Clearly, one of the most frequently mentioned buzzwords in the past roughly two decades of electrical power engineering was “smart”. Particularly, in relation to smart grid, which also claimed a place in new regular education curriculums. The first reactions to the emerging demand were made by the department for more than a decade ago, when the subject “Intelligent Electricity System” in the course of electrical engineering was initiated under the coordination of Prof. András Dán. The aim was to acquaint the students with similarity theory, reliability theory, fuzzy-neural methods used in power system modeling, research and development and design. This approach provided students considerable knowledge about a wide range of computer software used in power system planning and operation. As a result of the positive student feedback, “Basics of Intelligent Power Systems” was subsequently announced as a free elective subject (also for computer science engineers), which presented the impact of the spread of computer technology and communication on the entire electricity industry.
The next important step was the specialization subjects of the BSc training in electrical engineering, which has been running in the system since 2014, and BSc and MSc training programs in energy engineering, which were renewed in 2017.
2. DISCIPLINE OR PRACTICE
Before turning to the subjects, it is worth lingering on the boundary conditions that provide a framework in higher education when deciding to introduce new areas. Among numerous emerging problems, the vision of Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics related to education is the expectations of companies employing graduate engineers and, last but not least, the feedback of active students is of paramount importance. The balance is not always easy to find in a triangle of conflicting requirements, but it can more than once it is traced back to deeper reasons than what stakeholders see on the surface.
It is often criticized that power engineering is an “old” field of electrical engineering, where everything is covered in dust since decades and therefore it is not attractive to undergraduate or high school students anymore. The critics usually advise simple “solutions”: practice-oriented training, spectacular presentations. However, the resolution for this contradiction might need further developments beside those.
Hungarian higher education traditionally builds heavily on disciplinary learning, offering subjects from one or more special areas that are well demarcated and usually work with their own approach and tools. This concept can be easily recognized by outsiders in the courses that they provide core scientific knowledge for engineers, such as mathematics or physics. However, this structure appears in the subjects that contain the professional core material of the training, as the University wants to put a universal tool in the hands of the student; a timeless knowledge on the basis of which she/he can specialize even after decades. However, it is also easy to admit that knowledge that has stand the test of time is often necessarily “old”. Yet no one intends to leave Ohm’s law out of education as the introduction of emerging areas can only be built on these disciplinary foundations. The number of disciplines is growing. Looking back from the appropriate distance in time, it may happen that smart grid will become a similar discipline one day. At the moment we can hardly treat it with the same approach as other areas of education.
It is definitely worth to emphasize that significant changes have been taken place from an institutional point of view, recognizing the emerging role of practical learning. Besides, new laboratories have been equipped and cooperative training with industrial partners has been established, as well as subjects introducing group work and project-oriented approach at an early stage of education. Furthermore, the Department carried out a competence-based revision of the course requirements to keep up with the expectations. Competence-based subject design ideally won’t develop the education around disciplines but among them, making it interdisciplinary. This new format fosters decision making for students instead of applying topics that are often theoretical and difficult to interpret. Students also can apply for subjects based on the skills that can be acquired by completing the course. These skills can also be profitable for prospective employers. It is much more informative how a graduate engineer can apply Ohm’s law than the fact that he or she simply knows it.
3. SMART SUBJECTS IN THE EDUCATION
The Department of Electric Power Engineering of BME currently offers specifically dedicated subjects about smart grid technologies in three education programs. In Electrical Engineering BSc, Sustainable Electricity Specialization the subjects “Design and Operation of the Smart Grid” and “Smart Grid Laboratory”.
Energy Engineer BSc students can apply for “Operations of Smart Networks” while “Smart Grid Technologies and Applications” is offered for MSc students. Currently, Bálint Hartmann is responsible for all four subjects.
The course “Design and Operation of the Smart Grid” builds on the interest of students who are involved in the operation of smart distribution networks, power grid infrastructure planning, integration of renewable energy sources and decision support systems of the energy production-distribution-consumption value chain. Topics covered during the semester include aspects of service quality, description of parameters of medium and low voltage distribution networks, fault localization, conditions and effects associated with the network connection of distributed generation, energy storage and electric vehicles. In addition to the core topicsthe subject also introduces demand side management, sensor technology, communication systems, asset management systems and artificial intelligence solutions used in distribution networks. Latter topics are approached from a practical point of view giving an insight from a daily operation preparation and operation practices of Hungarian distribution system operators. It includes applied hardware and software tools by industry, and research projects that took place in local or international cooperation in the field with the participation of the Department. The course called “Operation of Smart Networks” is dedicated for Energy Engineers runs essentially the same content with more power engineering basics instead of network design issues.
Figure 1: Lecture at the Department of Electric Power Engineering, BME
The laboratory course is organically linked to the parallel running subject and consists of 12 thematic occasions, combining the specifics of computational exercises, software practices and on-hand laboratory sessions. Topics include analysis of load characteristics on power quality, harmonic filtering, network connection calculation of solar inverters, smart meter testing, and measuring various power line signal transmission options (power line communication, broadband over power lines etc.).
4. SMART GRID PATHWAYS – A CASE STUDY-BASED EDUCATION CONCEPT
In this section, the subject “Smart Grid Technologies and Applications” is highlighted, which can be used as a possible example for future university courses, especially in MSc training. The aim of the course is to acquaint students with the technologies and applications to smart grid concepts, both theoretically and practically. Smart grid technologies are discussed along the value chain from power generation to consumers, covering network automation, smart metering, demand side management, communication technologies, electric vehicles, grid connectivity, renewables, energy storage, cyber security, and business modeling. Students will learn how smart grid technologies and applications are transforming the energy industry, especially distribution networks and the services provided there.
The course includes a joint discussion and evaluation of frontal lectures including case study processing exercises and group assignments. The concept of the subject is to examine the possibilities of smart grid technologies in detail and applications for a Hungarian settlement (selected on the basis of students' votes) along six focus areas: energy storage, residential and community e-mobility, distributed energy production, smart metering, and data analysis, demand side management, public lighting. On one hand, there is an occasion to process case studies related to each of the focus areas, in the framework of selected projects implemented by the Hungarian distribution system operators and state of the art international studies. On the other hand, student groups develop a project plan during the semester that considers the conditions of the selected settlement, including a technical proposal, financial plan, impact, and risk analysis. In addition to the lecturers of the department, the employees of a Hungarian DSO (E.ON) and the representatives of the selected settlement also joins for the “Municipal board”. This supports the acquisition of the project approach and the solution of the complex task, which includes data provision, consultation opportunities, and guest presentations.
Figure 2: MSc students present their project proposal
In the first year of the course, the city of Szentgotthárd was analyzed based on the votes of the students covering the city's energy and transport infrastructure, composition and financial opportunities of the population, as well as local employers and the settlement plan of the city. The project proposals compiled by the groups were measured three times. At first, the course instructors reconciled the initial technical proposals with the realities, processing the risks inherent in the poorly identified options. In the second round, the groups had to formulate constructive criticism of each other's work In many cases, issues affecting applicability were highlighted that escaped the attention of the project team due to the strained pace. The final competition was a simulated municipal board meeting where the teams had only 10 minutes to convince the 7-member jury of their own project proposal. In addition to the lecturers, the fictitious body included András Koszár (Béla III. Vocational High School and Vocational High School teacher, Deputy Mayor of Szentgotthárd), Gábor Mihály Péter and László Pintér (E.ON Network Strategy Department).
The order between the project plans was established based on the votes of the board and the students. The focus areas of the three most creative projects were demand side management, distributed energy generation and communication. The best business model was created by the group on e-mobility, demand side management and smart metering Based on the community votes, the most promising plan was given by the topic of demand side management.
The feedback was clearly positive by students highlighting a practice-oriented approach, individual assignments, and a constructive atmosphere in which they feel much more like colleagues compared to the usual faculty-student division.
This article edited by Pardis Khayyer
For a downloadable copy of the October 2020 eNewsletter which includes this article, please visit the IEEE Smart Grid Resource Center.