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Members of the UH Energy and Sustainability VIP presented at a poster session in October 2022.

A new initiative is helping the University of Hawaiʻi System achieve its sustainability goals, while providing real-world, hands-on experience for UH Mānoa College of Engineering students.

UH Energy and Sustainability is one of about 20 vertically integrated projects (VIPs) offered at UH Mānoa. VIPs are designed as long-term projects to engage students and better prepare them for future careers. Teams are vertically integrated, meaning they consist of a faculty mentor, graduate student researchers and undergraduate students of all levels.

people looking at equipment in a building
In fall 2022, students are focusing on buildings within the Holmes Hall loop, which are served by an HVAC system on the roof of the building.

The UH Energy and Sustainability VIP grew out of a fall 2021 electrical engineering course called Renewable Energy of Hawaiʻi, which was introduced by Yoh Kawanami from Hawaiian Electric, in consultation with Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Chair Wayne Shiroma. Its goal was to provide electrical and computer engineering students with more hands-on experiences and access to subject matter experts from the industry. In collaboration with Hawaiian Electric and the UH Office of Sustainability, this course has continued through student projects in spring and fall 2022. Several students who have taken this course and completed related projects have recently been hired by Hawaiian Electric.

“It is exciting to have our students work on projects that are personally meaningful to them, while interacting with and learning directly from industry and sustainability experts who are generously volunteering their time,” said Olga Boric-Lubecke, UH Energy and Sustainability team advisor and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering professor. “This semester we are focusing on buildings within the Holmes Hall loop, which are served by an HVAC system installed on the roof of Holmes Hall.”

Reginald Atchazo, who is the second semester of the VIP and is the data visualization project leader, said, “So far my experience in the UH Energy and Sustainability VIP has been great. It has challenged me and allowed me to be creative and learn about data visualization through a software called tableau. This will help prepare me for a future career because I think this is a useful skill to have, being able to process data and create visual components in a way for a general audience to understand.”

Students have tackled and are continuing work on several issues, including:

  • Photovoltaic system with battery design and performance evaluation at UH Maui College, Leeward Community College, Windward CC, UH Mānoa and Hawaiian Electric sites on Maui.
  • UH Mānoa electric power, energy consumption and associated cost data visualization based on individual building data.
  • Indoor environmental quality impact assessment on occupant comfort and energy consumption on the UH Mānoa campus.

Boric-Lubecke and Matthias Fripp serve as faculty advisors, and the projects are co-supervised by Kawanami, Miles Topping from the UH Office of Sustainability, and Eileen Peppard from the UH Office of Sustainability, and project and partnership coordinator with Hawaiʻi Sea Grant’s Center for Smart Building and Community Design. In addition to hands-on project work, the UH Energy and Sustainability VIP includes site visits, Hawaiian Electric video presentations and Q&A sessions, and other relevant presentations by outside experts.

“The quality of work from these electrical engineers is outstanding!” Topping said. “The eagerness, motivation and speed amazes me. Companies both locally and nationally will be stoked to hire any one of these individuals.”

Kawanami added, “VIP provides the industry to directly interact with the students from the College of Engineering. We hope this experience creates a win-win environment for both the industry and students. With climate change and sustainability at forefront on everyone’s mind, opportunities such as this VIP are essential to the development of the future workforce.”

Boosted by alumni donation

Related: Alumni Ken and Donna Hayashida donate $500K to UH engineering, nursing, December 2021

A $250,000 donation to the UH Mānoa College of Engineering in 2021 from KAI Hawaii was specifically designed to support this VIP in sustainability and resilience.

“This is part of the College of Engineering’s efforts to connect our industry and alumni partners in bringing real world, and Hawaiʻi specific, problems into the educational experience for our students where they can see the tangible difference they can make in our communities as engineers,” UH Mānoa College of Engineering Dean Brennon Morioka said.

Fall 2022 featured VIPs

The UH Energy and Sustainability VIP was one of several UH Mānoa VIPs featured at a poster session in October 2022. Poster sessions are held every semester in the UH Mānoa Campus Center Ballroom. For more information about VIPs, visit this website.

—By Marc Arakaki

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