Prof. Max Zhang, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and his students are working to make Maplewood Apartments eco-friendly by reworking its electrical grids.
Zhang’s research focuses on producing electrical grids to develop sustainable energy systems. He is currently working on creating an electrical heating system that maps energy consumption at Maplewood Apartments, a new housing complex for graduate students slated to be completed in August.
“Maplewood, to me, provides an unprecedented opportunity to study how a large-scale implementation of heat pumps actually works in the real world,” Zhang said.
Using renewable energy to provide heat will prove challenging because the residents’ simultaneous use of their heating systems in the cold climate can lead to a power surge if the system is not properly adapted, according to Zhang.
“One challenge you have to mitigate is peak demand,” Zhang said. “Because it is electrically driven, the colder it gets, the more power you are going to use.”
He hopes that electrical grids can be used to power heat pumps that adequately provide heating to the apartments.
Zhang believes that what is learned from Maplewood will have lasting impacts on the local community and beyond as more places transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources.
For Zhang’s students, this provides a real-world opportunity to apply what they learn in the classroom.
Alexander Li ’20 helped install sensors that are connected to a technological database and allow individuals to view collected information on a website.
“I have the opportunity to test and design mic controllers and sensors,” Li said. “My major is Electrical and Computer Engineering, so this should be right up my alley.”
Graham Merrifield ’18 said that this study has given him the chance to deliver a product to a real customer, as well as consider the economic and behavioral impacts of application-based engineering decisions.
“As a senior studying mechanical engineering, it is exciting to apply my classroom and lab experience to a project which will have a direct impact on the community around us in the near future,” Merrifield said.