Engineering, social-work schools partner on innovative solar project, funded by a $2.3 million Department of Energy grant

The Case School of Engineering and the Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University and the Medical Center Company are partnering on a project to investigate the integration of cutting-edge, solar-energy technology with battery energy storage and building energy management.

The MSASS Building on the Case Western Reserve University campus has been transformed into a “smart” building. Contractors installed more than 200 solar panels on the flat roof of the Mandel School. But this is no ordinary solar-panel project.

Behind the walls of the Bellflower Road building are 40 modular lithium-ion batteries designed to store energy and distribute power as needed. Standard solar panels power a building with excess electricity fed back to the grid.

CWRU was awarded a $2.3 million grant, under the direction of Marija Prica, Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) at CWRU to design and test a fully automated system that stores energy and dynamically manages the combination of solar generated power and power from energy storage and building loads, said Ken Loparo, the Arthur L. Parker Professor at the engineering school.

The grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, enables the university to have control of energy distribution within the MSASS building. The project is part of DOE’s SHINES (Sustainable and Holistic Integration of Energy Storage and Solar PV) initiative to accelerate modernizing the nation’s electric power grid.

The project was done in collaboration with EPRI, Clean Power Research, FirstEnergy, Intwine Connect, Eaton, MCCo and LGChem.

How it works

The solar panels on the roof generate power, that is used to operate building loads as needed, power can also be stored in a cluster of batteries in the basement in the building and then used at a later time. The computerized control systems “talk with each other” and interact with the building’s varying energy needs.

Forecasts of solar power at the building site are used to estimate how much energy from the solar panels will be available in given period of times, and that information is then to determine how to manage building loads and energy storage. Furthermore, energy storage is used to provide the necessary supplemental power in the event of a significant decrease in solar power is expected, such as cloud cover.

“There’s a predicative algorithm at work that looks forward to what the solar power should be at this location and the determines how building loads and energy storage should be managed based on the forecast,” Loparo said. “We use the energy stored in the batteries as needed during the day and then use the evening hours to replenish the batteries.” 

“A more just world”

The technology turns sunlight into storable energy, but the project also converts rising energy costs into real savings. Mandel School Dean Grover Gilmore said the technology cuts the building’s energy costs by as much as a half per month.

“Part of our mission is to create a more just world,” said Gilmore, “and, in this instance, a more sustainable world. Above all, this is a firm commitment to reducing our carbon footprint.”


For more information, contact Colin McEwen at colin.mcewen@case.edu