Engineering and Computer Science Faculty Publications

Cutting Away from the Power Grid

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date


Journal Title

118th Annual Conference & Exposition of the American Society for Engineering Education


One of the course objectives for the junior-level Thermodynamics course being taught to our mechanical engineering (ME) majors is “students will analyze engineering systems to evaluate their thermodynamic designs”. The Rankine Cycle and its application to power plants were studied intensely. Students were provided with the results of the campus Energy Usage and Emissions Inventory. Some key data which they noted was (1) 74% of the campus energy usage was electricity purchased from the local distributor (2007), (2) roughly 90% of the campus energy usage over the past 10 years was attributed to either purchased electricity or purchased natural gas, and (3) while the student body has grown a modest 8% over the past 10 years, the dollar amount of the energy purchased by Cedarville University has risen 50% over that same 10- year period.

Students were then placed onto teams and assigned one of six alternative energy sources (wind, natural gas, fuel cell, solar, biodiesel, or nuclear) for which they developed a Partial Replacement of Campus Electricity plan. Student teams were required to identify Cedarville’s electricity supplier’s energy source, its cost of purchasing the electricity, and the carbon output resulting from the electricity purchased by the university. Their task was to locate an existing commercial power generating unit which could generate at least 15% of Cedarville’s current electricity demands, compute the capital expenditure to purchase and install the unit, and perform a lifecycle analysis in order to compute total cost to the university over a 30-year period for implementing their plan.

Though Congress has yet to finalize “Cap-and-Trade” legislation, students were also asked to compute the cost savings to the university for a “carbon credit” of $50 per tonne of CO2 saved. The student teams then developed conclusions as to the viability of their proposals. They freely expressed their feelings about the relative importance of “carbon neutrality” versus their personal educational expenses.


Alternative energy sources, analyze engineering systems, carbon output, green engineering