Should you get solar panels or not? Electric cars for everyone? Or what about wind energy? What do you choose in order to make a university campus, business park or residential area more sustainable? What are the knock-on effects of one application on the whole? “Even if you are not an energy expert, everyone should be able to have a say and decide how to make a building, an entire site oe neighborhood ready for the energy transition,” says Niels Adaloudis, third-year Industrial Engineering student and team leader of student team RED.
The team has its origins in the Honors Academy of Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). Students looking for more of a challenge in their studies get to work on a self-chosen project that is linked to a social problem. That project can evolve into a student team that tries to market the product, as team RED is now doing.
Total energy consumption
Team RED developed an interactive 3D model of the university campus for the Eindhoven University of Technology. Using a touch screen, you can pin so-called tokens on to a building in the model. These tokens represent, for example, a solar panel. These in turn reveals the effect on the total energy consumption of the site. The application was completed this month and will be located in the GO Green Office of the Atlas building at TU/e, the most sustainable educational building in the world. A reveal event is to be held on March 19.
Mark Cox, who commissioned the assignment: “It’s a kind of gaming environment. By playing with this system, people who aren’t very technical can quickly see what happens when you make changes. Suppose you fill the entire campus with solar cells or wind turbines. Or overnight, 50 percent of the staff comes to work with electric cars that need to be charged. What impact does that have? What is the effect on the electricity cables that are there, won’t there be some instability? Also, a building nowadays is almost a living organism,” Adaloudis notes. “A building can also generate energy and feed it back. It’s not a one-way street anymore.” The reveal event completes Team RED’s assignment for TU/e.
The next client is already lined up: the Minervum business park in Breda. There, the team will work with students from Avans University of Applied Sciences. The university also wanted to improve the situation on the industrial site. Although the team is not building another model for Minervum. The team gave up on that idea. “If you have to replicate all those buildings all the time, that takes far too much time. That scale model is good to showcase what we want to do, but it’s not something we see everyone using in the future.”
Which is what the team wants. That in a residential area, people can decide with each other how they are going to carry out the energy transition in their neighbourhood. So, the team started to think about this and talked to those involved. These included Cox (the one who gave out the assignment and coach of the students), but also smart cities experts, energy companies and Minervum’s facility management department.
“We found out that they above all want to be able to make transparent decisions. The most important thing is to see in a playful way what, for example, charging stations or solar panels mean for the environment. We make that transparent with the software.” In order to visualize the concequences, a client can choose to use an iPad or a large touchscreen.
“Behind the meter”
Cox gave the students a fairly narrowly defined assignment to build a “demonstrator” in the form of the interactive scale model. There is not such a concrete assignment at Minervum. The team is literally starting from scratch, says Adaloudis. Another major difference is that Minervum is home to several independent companies. Cox: “On campus, you get to work ‘behind the meter,’ so to speak. There there is only one person there who delivers you the data.” A business park like that has several ‘meters.’ And that’s especially true of a residential area. “We are then talking about hundreds of people, who also want to know exactly what is happening with their data. Then you end up with a completely different process. But it is a next step,” Cox says.
Minervum likely wants to see different data than TU/e, Adaloudis goes on to say. Whereas the university’s main concern was the visualization of energy flows, Minervum’s mandate is presumably about providing insight into costs, Adaloudis says. “Where can they save on energy and what are the most efficient applications? TU/e also has a responsibility to support sustainability in general. That’s an entirely different matter with a business park like this.”
Adaloudis sees working with students from Avens as a great advantage. “We are more into theory and doing research. University of Applied Sciences students often have a much more practical approach. We find that we strengthen each other as a result.” The team now comprises six students from TU/e and one from Avans University of Applied Sciences.
Ultimately, Adaloudis wants to take the product to the market. In order to do that, it has to be easily applicable in a variety of situations. “In all of these situations, you have to look at the data model, because without data, our product will not do anything. Therefore, we have to come up with a model that people understand. Which means that their privacy and the data that they provide also needs to be properly protected.”
Team RED’s software converts data on energy consumption into easy-to-understand information. Not everyone stores that data in the same way, Adaloudis says. “For example, TU/e wants to store the amount of energy consumed per hour or per day. But another company might store it in a different ratio, expressed in other units. Our model ultimately has to do something with this. We now have to adapt our model to each specific data collection method. It should be possible to do that in a standardized way.”
Team RED has its workshop at the TU/E innovation Space, the place where students, student teams, researchers, industry and government work on the relevant challenges of our time. Adaloudis hears around him that other student teams have a “pretty tough time recruiting students. On the other hand, I also hear that students are bored.” As far as Adaloudis is concerned, a student team is a good thing to join right now. ” You get to work on a big goal together with other students. Otherwise, you’re just staring at your screen all day, trying to follow your classes.”
Given that the students’ product primarily involves writing software, they can develop the product from home, Adaloudis said. That is one advantage they have over student teams working on a physical product. “These students can’t go to the lab now to tinker with their product. You can see that they are lagging behind as a result.” Yet his team experiences some setbacks too, Adaloudis adds. Because you do not just come to Innovation Space to work on your own product, you also meet all kinds of other people ‘who also give you new perspectives.’ “And you need others. You may want to conquer the world as a team, but you can’t do it alone.”
You can register for the reveal event via this link.
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