Improving Solar Power on the Navajo Reservation through a Novel IEC Collaboration
By Henry Louie, Peter Romine, and Darrick Lee
Access to the power grid has remained out of reach for tens of thousands of homes on Native American reservations. This form of energy poverty is associated with a wide range of negative health, economic, and educational outcomes. Recently, small-scale solar-powered off-grid electrical systems have been installed in homes on reservations, providing modest but meaningful access to electricity. A recent three-year, $540,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to Navajo Technical University (NTU) and Seattle University (SU) aims to better understand how these solar systems are used and gain insight into how their designs can be improved.
The project team, led by Dr. Peter Romine and Mr. Darrick Lee at NTU and Dr. Henry Louie at SU, are taking a data-driven approach. Data from several hundred off-grid systems will be collected through customized data acquisition systems and analyzed to benchmark performance, create statistical models of power consumption, and identify causes of outages. This important data will later be made available to other researchers and practitioners, leading to improved designs that lower cost and increase performance.
This novel collaboration between NTU, SU, and other industry and community stakeholders also features participation by undergraduate engineering student researchers across all stages. Students from Freshman to graduating Seniors will meaningfully participate in the project, from hands-on experience designing and building data acquisition systems, to coding data analysis and visualization programs. Additionally, the grant funds twin hardware testbeds at NTU and SU, which brings another level to the collaboration. Faculty at NTU and SU will be able to share curriculum using the testbeds, and students at both institutions can collaborate on laboratory experiments.