Teaching and Learning Energy-Efficiency
Energy solutions and energy efficiency is a megatrend that cuts across the entire technology education industry.
The energy sector employs a wide range of professionals with different educational backgrounds, but the development of the sector specifically requires engineers. As a University of Applied Sciences providing engineering education, we should therefore train professionals capable of developing the energy sector. In this article, the topics are primarily from the perspective of Electrical and Automation Engineering students.
At first some basic information about our organization: Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) is a multidisciplinary university that offers education in multiple fields of technology at both bachelor's and master's levels. The research is carried out in the HAMK Tech research unit, whose research areas include materials research, design and manufacturing technology research, construction research and energy efficiency research. Our strength - and our continuous development task - is to link teaching and research into a mutually supportive whole
HAMK's pedagogical model is based on phenomenon learning. Underlying the thinking is a constructivist notion of learning, according to which the student always builds or constructs knowledge themself. It does not pass as such from teacher to student. Central to this is a multidisciplinary understanding of the phenomenon, interdisciplinarity, in which different fields come together. The phenomenon is viewed from the perspectives of different sectors, but in a way that the outcome is shared.
Diverse students, diverse teaching methods
The background of our students varies greatly. Some have a vocational degree, and some come straight from high school. Some of them have worked a long time in engineering or some other field. Some of them have next to no working experience. Some of them have a long time from their previous studies so their study skills may lack. Levels of motivation also varies, but in general the motivation to study is good. The heterogeneous background of students raises challenges on teaching implementation. This is offset by their motivation and interest in energy-related topics.
Almost half of our students study for their degree while working at the same time. These students work in multitudes of positions, and they often have a strong competence related to the energy sector. With those students in particular, learning happens in interaction: students learn from each other, and the staff also learns.
Distance learning methods and materials have been in development since before the pandemic, but naturally the pandemic accelerated the development of practices. E-learning requires a lot from teachers and students. Experience has shown that students’ preparedness is high. Studying via the Internet requires a great deal of discipline to examine course materials and complete assigned tasks on time. The teachers’ role has changed from “transferrer of information” to more of a coach-like instructor. Guiding students via the Internet requires new ways of guidance. Teaching material and assignments need to vary.
For example, watching online lectures or videos alone, and then completing assignments is not enough. You also need team assignments and conversation possibilities - deepening what has been learned. Energy-related topics has seemed suitable for this type of studying method. Extensiveness of the topic enables the designing of varied assignments with multiple levels of difficulty. Starting from energy solutions familiar to all and everyone’s experience with them, later delving deeper into the topic and raising difficulty.
Learning in research projects
Students take part in energy-efficiency research project testing and measuring. HAMK's Electrical and Automation Engineering students have over the years taken part in two particular energy sector research and development projects. The Energy-efficiency with precise control project, that researched creating electricity on a small scale with wasted energy, and the Low carbon energy efficiency with micro-CHP technical project, that expanded and developed the hybrid module for small scale energy production built in the previous project. It integrates energy production utilizing waste heat generated by a burning process (CHP, combined heat and power) and a micro turbine. The second goal of the project focuses on optimizing the burning process and improving efficiency of the hybrid module.
The mentioned hybrid module refers to a physical building, where various methods of energy production are tested. The building has an intelligent control system, that is used to determine which method of energy production is the most cost effective. Possible energy sources are solar heat, solar panel and bio boiler. Methods of heat storage are also examined. In addition to water phase transformation, materials are also used to enable storing greater quantities of heat. In addition to producing information, the building could be an energy source in itself.
Some of the students continue deeper into projects and research unit operations. They can start working as a trainee, part-time or full-time. A natural continuation for trainees working in research projects is to choose one aspect of the project as their thesis topic, while deepening their understanding even more.
Research projects offer students different levels of learning opportunities. It is essential that those that do not participate in the research still get a general picture of the University’s research activities and the process of emergence of knowledge. Growth to a professional of the energy sector can be described as a pyramid design: at graduation every student knows the basics needed by an engineer. Close connections to research projects create an opportunity to grow to a professional, that acts as an active developer in his/her working community, solving challenges related to energy and energy-efficiency.
Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK)
Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK) is a multidisciplinary, workplace-orientated higher education institution located in Finland. HAMK’s seven campuses are situated centrally in the greater Helsinki metropolitan area of southern Finland. Ten of its degree programmes are taught in English.
HAMK’s roots stretch back to 1840, when agricultural education began at the Mustiala Campus. The Evo Campus, meanwhile, is Finland’s oldest school of forestry. It was founded in 1862 and is still operating today, surrounded by its 1800 hectares of observational forest.
Lea Mustonen, Senior Lecturer (Communications), School of Technology, Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK),
Susan Heikkilä, Senior Lecturer, Electrical and Automation Engineering study programme, Häme University of Applied Sciences (HAMK)
Polar Night Energy’s first commercial sand-based high temperature heat storage is now in operation at Vatajankoski power plant area. The heat storage, which has a hundred tons of sand inside, is producing low emission district heating to the city of Kankaanpää in Western Finland. BBC made a story about Polar Night Energy’s heat storage solution.