Controlling your Alternative Energy Device

Submitted by Todd Strobel
2012-05-23 00:15:14

Students at a high school in Washington State are gathering data and controlling their alternative energy devices using programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and touch screen modules inspired by trips to alternative energy sites.
In 2010 Colville High School started an Alternative Energy program.
Field trips were organized to the Wild Horse Wind Farm in Vantage, WA, Kettle Falls Generating Station and Meyers Falls Dam in Kettle Falls, WA. Gonzaga University and Spokane Community College in Spokane, WA also gave tours and seminars for the students.
The students kept hearing the phrases "PLC," "HMI" (human machine interface), and "touch screen," and were very interested in learning about the devices that were controlling various alternative energy systems. The students researched what was available as turn key systems for education and found that they wanted more capabilities at a cheaper price.
So let the learning begin.
Students searched and researched, talked to vendors, documented their designs and chose the best solution for the task. Students created drawings, parts lists, and manuals for their designs. They faxed their purchase orders and approval and waited for parts to arrive. After the parts arrived it was time to build the modules with industrial equipment. In one semester the students built one PLC module and two HMI modules from the ground up.
In a 2011 class, students learned how to program using ladder logic programming, programming the touch screen to communicate with the PLC using modbus and ethernet. So far some of the students have used the PLC and a touch screen to gather data on their vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) made from concrete sauna tubes. Other projects that are not quite finished are a wind turbine made from PVC pipe, various water turbines, a solar panel made from scratch, and an Electrathon Vehicle. One particular group is designing a module that would simulate a Smart Home using the PLC and a touch screen.
As the instructor for the class there has been nothing better than seeing a student research, design, and build a device about which they had no idea. Also good was having discussions with other instructors about how some of the students are using all their academic class studies to help them accomplish a design and manufacturing process.

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