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Eleven students in a recent course on energy and sustainability built a charging station for electric cars.

Priming a hydrogen fuel cell.

The station is attached to the Sustainable Living Center grid and uses some of the excess energy from the wind turbine and solar panels that power the building.

The station, at 40 amps, is able to charge cars in 2–4 hrs depending on the type of car. The station is located in front of the Sustainable Living Center and is free for anyone to use. There is a second station in the same location that is also free.

“We generate so much energy that we have a lot to share,” said Heather Walden, Sustainable Living departmental administrator.

In the course, taught by electrical engineer Ralph Hearn, students learned all about volts, amps, joules, watts, and ohms – and the mathematics needed to compute usage requirements.

Connecting the charging station to the Sustainable Living Center grid.

The students explored several areas of energy power, including hydrogen fuel cells. They also built a microgrid, which can function independently of the utility company’s grid. They hooked their microgrid to a solar panel and calculated the kilowatt hours.

A main focus was setting up the charging station, which they were able to do for about $600 – a tenth of the typical cost of around $6,000.

They purchased a kit for $250 from OpenVE, which markets open source charging solutions. In the class they put the kit together, with other parts such as breakers, panels, and wire bringing the total to $600.

They then hooked the charging station into the existing grid inside the power shed for the Sustainable Living Center.

“The students really enjoyed it and had a great time,” Ms. Walden said. “They really wanted something practical.”

In addition to learning how to build a charging station, the knowledge they gained will enable them to calculate the energy requirements of a solar installation so they can determine how many kilowatts or megawatts the solar panels will need to generate.

The course also explored broader issues such as the role energy plays in sustainability and in the development of complexity and order in nature, as well as in the human economy.