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Virtual learning lab for renewable energy experiments now available

February 8, 2021

Solar panels on the roof of Still Hall collect solar energy for students to observe and conduct experiments in the Power Systems Lab

As the population increases across the globe, the demand for energy also increases, as does the need to find renewable forms of energy and reduce the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels. According to estimates, if the world does not do more to convert to the use of renewable energy sources, the world may deplete its supply of fossil fuels as soon as 2060 at the current rate of consumption.

With the goal of expanding the use of renewable energy in mind, a four-year project will conclude in May this year at NIU that is designed to inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists to work in the field of renewable energy. Through an interactive virtual laboratory now available, college students can learn about renewable energy by conducting virtual experiments.

“The main objective of the project is to develop virtual experiments and create innovative teaching materials for university students,” said Professor Liping Guo, Ph.D. of the NIU Department of Engineering Technology and principal investigator on the project. “We have used the virtual experiments and evaluated its effectiveness in several courses at the Engineering Technology Department to teach students power electronics, renewable energy and control, topics all related to distributed power generation.”

Professor Liping Guo, Ph.D.

Professor Guo started the project in May 2017 with co-principal investigator and now-retired Professor Andrew Otieno, Ph.D., funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Improving Undergraduate STEM Education program.

The project “Interactive Virtual Laboratory: Using Renewable Energy Experiments to Enhance Student Engagement in STEM” allows NIU students to monitor and collect data in real-time as energy is collected from solar panels installed on the roof at Still Hall at NIU, home to the Department of Engineering Technology. The students can also learn about other types of power converters through simulation.  The project engaged high school students, especially girls and minorities to inspire interest in future science careers and increase diversity in the field of renewable energy.

Ten educational virtual experiments are available that include lessons, learning objectives and experiment procedures that teach students the fundamentals of power electronics, solar powerwind power, and DC-DC converters.

“This is such a wonderful educational opportunity for young students who are interested in STEM subjects, and we are so proud of Dr. Guo and Dr. Otieno who have worked so hard on the development of this program,” said Dean Donald Peterson, Ph.D. of NIU’s College of Engineering and Engineering Technology (CEET).

For more information about the college and the interactive virtual lab, visit