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University of Puerto Rico wins US Solar District Cup

Mayagüez campus students triumph over top universities in solar design competition.

The team from the University of Puerto Rico’s Mayagüez campus (RUM, in Spanish) recently defeated 16 other teams to win this year’s Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition’s Class of 2023–2024, which was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). 

The students from the College of Engineering at RUM submitted their project titled “Minds to Create.” and achieved first place in the competition hosted by the DOE. This marks the second time the team from RUM has achieved first place, surpassing prestigious universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Texas A&M.

“It is immensely satisfying that we not only dominated Solar District but also an additional one among the champions. This is the first time that Puerto Rico or any Hispanic institution has achieved such a distinction. So, today, we are No. 1 in the United States and Puerto Rico in the area of photovoltaic system design. There is no one better than us in the area of solar systems,” said Dr. Eduardo I. Ortiz-Rivera, professor of electrical engineering and computers and the teams’ mentor.

The project involved designing a photovoltaic system for the University of Texas, Dallas. 

“The challenge was to achieve a resilient design that would allow the university to function in the event of a disaster and at the same time reduce the carbon emissions of the institution. Also, to consider the new changes it would face from an energy perspective, such as including electric vehicles as part of its service vehicle fleet at the university,” the professor explained.

A standout component of the proposal was the inclusion of community involvement and the team’s firsthand knowledge of disasters, having experienced Hurricane María and the earthquakes that struck the island’s southwestern region themselves. Thus, they compared Texas, whose energy system is not connected to its neighboring states, to an island, similar to Puerto Rico.

“What took it to another level was the complete analysis we conducted, not only in electrical and conceptual design but also how it affects the community both inside and outside the university,” said Víctor García-Vázquez, team captain and student of electrical engineering.

Technical reports were also required to support the viability of the proposal.

“They needed to be knowledgeable about planning in Texas, specifically Richmond County, state and local county regulations, as well as the selection of various components such as solar panels, inverters and commercially available batteries. They also had to calculate returns, how much it would cost and investments,” Ortiz-Rivera noted.

“They needed to create a technical design, as if they were a company in the renewable energy systems area, as well as submit reports during the semester about their progress, at the end and their presentation to the audience. There were industry people, institutions, community members and people related to the photovoltaic systems area present. One of the greatest aspects of this challenge is that it had to realistically consider how viable it was,” the professor added.

The team was made up of 17 students from the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Software, Civil Engineering and Industrial Engineering.

“We formed a multidisciplinary team to achieve the goals and objectives, as it requires a lot of varied knowledge. The work that the group did was magnificent and brought us to where we are now. This triumph has been the greatest satisfaction in my experiences at the school,” the team captain added.

For the Mayagüez campus, the distinction represents the capability and creativity at the UPR to solve real-world problems in the renewable energy field.

“Es interesante que compitieron con universidades consideradas como las mejores de Estados Unidos, así que eso les debe dar una idea a cualquiera de la calidad de nuestros estudiantes, profesores y de lo que hacemos aquí en el Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez. Felicito al doctor Eduardo Ortiz, ya que bajo su liderato y su guía los ha llevado a un nivel competitivo cuando se gradúen”

“This achievement is the sum of all our efforts, talents, and the diversity of our students and professors. We have here a group of students from various specialties who tackled a problem with many dimensions. The main theme is renewable energy, but it encompasses various disciplines. The approach they maintained was exactly that, to look at it from different perspectives, and that is why they won this championship,” emphasized RUM’s chancellor, Dr. Agustín Rullán-Toro

“It is interesting that they competed with universities considered the best in the United States, so that should give everyone an idea of the quality of our students, professors, and what we do here at the Mayagüez campus. I congratulate Dr. Eduardo Ortiz, as under his leadership and guidance he has brought them to a competitive level upon graduation,” the chancellor added.

In 2021, when the team won its first championship, the challenge was to create a photovoltaic system for an area in Denver, Colorado. Ortiz-Rivera said the city is working on implementing the project based on the recommendations of the Puerto Rican team.

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