Dordt College News

Dordt student engineers meet energy needs and build educational tool

April 26, 2013

A team of three senior engineering majors designed a Solar Power Generation System and, with Dordt’s Laboratory Systems Engineer Andrew Kroeze, installed it at Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO) headquarters in N. Fort Myers, Florida, in April. ECHO provides support to a diverse network of people around the world who work with those in poverty, helping them be more effective, especially in the area of agriculture.

After learning of the organization’s need, Dordt students put together a proposal with a preliminary design in September. ECHO chose their proposal a month later.

Hannah Orlow, Ryan Tholen, and Tyler Woudstra designed and built the system as part of their Senior Design project. It gives ECHO an alternative source of energy to power their Appropriate Technology Center and allows them to use the solar generator system as an educational tool for tourists, missionaries, and development workers on solar power generation system design, assembly, operation, and maintenance.

“The beauty of this design is that it is made from parts that can be bought off the shelf, and we provided educational signage and documentation so anyone could understand its function and learn how to build their own system,” said Tholen.

“ECHO works with many agricultural development workers and missionaries, and our students’ design gives us a chance to help in their mission,” said Engineering Professor Nolan Van Gaalen. In addition, the project allowed Dordt to further develop its relationship with ECHO, which has already worked with the college’s agriculture department.

The solar power system has a capacity of 2.3 kilowatts, which is sufficient to provide for the needs of the Appropriate Technology Center. It is simple, reliable, has relatively low maintenance, and is durable and safe. It is a system that could easily be incorporated in a developing country to power a village or home.

“This kind of project is what you hope for as a student engineer,” Tholen said. “It’s a chance to meet needs in a positive way.”

“This design has almost endless possibilities,” Van Gaalen said. “It’s meant to stand alone, run without being connected to a power source, and store energy. It’s easy to put together and can easily be scaled up or down to any needs. Now ECHO is going to be able to share with their constituents how this tool can aid them in the field.”

Dordt’s new science building will include a similarly designed solar generation system that can be used to provide power and as an educational tool for Dordt students.

“It’s great being part of a project where you not only get to create an idea but you get to see it fulfill a real need and help people for years to come. Our system is an example of appropriate technology with holistic design that we learn about at Dordt throughout all our courses,” Orlow said.

The engineering department is excited about other possibilities for future interaction between ECHO and Dordt College. To learn more about engineering at Dordt College, go to

Media Access: Download Word Version