By Brianna Diaz
In the fall of 2009, the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and the Center for Clean Energy Engineering (C2E2) welcomed Dr. Sung-Yeul Park as an assistant professor. Dr. Park’s current research addresses vital issues pertaining to energy, including renewable energy power conditioning systems, utility grid integration, and energy storage, but this was not always his primary area of interest.
Dr. Park, who received his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University as well as a B.S. in control and instrumentation engineering from Hoseo University in South Korea, was originally interested in working in the field of robotics. “I fell into [energy research] by chance,” he said. “But by the time I was finishing my Ph.D., I realized that energy was a good place to focus my attention.”
At UConn, Dr. Park’s work has focused primarily on power conditioning and conversion of different energy sources to be used in a “Smart Grid” power system. Unlike the current energy network, the Smart Grid system will be capable of accepting energy from a wide range of power sources — from wind, solar, and fuel cells to coal and natural gas — and intelligently managing the power network to ensure proper utilization. The capabilities of the Smart Grid allow it not only to sense system overloads and quickly reroute power to prevent power outages, but also to provide better quality power sources free of spikes and disturbances.
For Dr. Park, UConn is an ideal home for his research because of the unique niche he fills. Before his arrival, the university lacked a researcher with academic and research expertise in power electronics. Because of the distinctive perspective he brings to UConn, Dr. Park can enjoy a certain level of freedom that many first-year faculty rarely experience. “Coming to UConn allowed me to start with a new plan for teaching and research,” Park explained. “I can design my classes and research projects for students from scratch, and incorporate components of renewable energy, power networking, and efficient energy utilization into the curriculum.”
Although Dr. Park’s classes sometimes focus on broad concepts in electrical engineering, he strives to provide students examples of how classroom topics can be applied to studies in energy. “Although I came from outside of the field of energy, I would like to train my students to take an interest in energy issues.”
In addition, Park’s research fits well with the newly proposed Green Campus Initiative. This initiative resulted from UConn President Michael Hogan’s signing of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which commits the university to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
“The project will execute a university-supported vision to transition the Depot Campus into a ‘Green Campus,’ meaning that it will rely more heavily on renewable resources,” said C2E2 Director Prabhakar Singh. “The initiative will allow the center to not only model new energy systems at a community level through partnerships with Connecticut industry, but also to educate students at a systems level.”
“This idea is very interesting to me,” Dr. Park said. “My research area is part of the Green Campus Initiative in that it addresses how we can integrate and manage the different types of energy sources supplied to the power grid.”
Above all, Dr. Park’s research has allowed him to create unique opportunities for his graduate and undergraduate students. One of these projects includes working on battery-powered electric vehicles that were donated to C2E2 by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. Working with these vehicles gives his students hands-on experience in applying the principles learned in the classroom to practical application. “It is not part of my research, but I would like my students to be exposed to this experience,” Dr. Park said. “The most important part of teaching is to make the students feel excited about what they are doing and to have fun during these activities, so that they will stay interested in this field of research. If a task is too difficult or they do not find it practical, students will lose interest.”