Households may one day power their own homes, at least in part. A group of electrical and computer engineering students working on their senior project was tapped by Rocky Mountain Power to design a wind generator-solar panel system that integrates both utility power and renewable energy sources. The system produces about as much power as a typical household uses, and monitors the flow of power to and from the grid.

“The unique thing is they’re designing software to monitor the power flowing in and out of the power-generating units and the grid,” says Assistant Professor Faisal Khan, faculty advisor to the group. “Therefore, this project would present the various components of the Smart Grid and explain how it works.”

The power company wants to avoid operating expensive, inefficient “peak” plants during times of high demand. The hope is that this project will pave the way for consumers to generate part of their own power, reduce consumption, and sell unused power back to the grid to other consumers. “This is a win-win situation for both the consumer and the utility company,” says Khan. “Demand continues to increase over time, so supplementary clean sources of renewable energy are needed.”

The project also aims to demonstrate how the Automated Demand Response operation works—where consumers respond to dynamic pricing of electricity by managing consumption so they can avoid the penalty for using electricity during peak events.

Corporate sponsors use student talent “because in many cases there is a clear engineering need that our groups can fill,” says Associate Professor Steven Blair, director of the engineering clinic program that matches seniors to corporate-sponsored projects. “Many sponsors are short-handed, and they find this to be an economical way to solve problems that are important to them while investing in engineering’s future, increasing their own visibility, and recruiting new graduates.”