Student project Solar Wharf Garage

International student project awarded first prize

​Design a garage with charging stations for electric boats, where boats are also protected against bad weather. This was the assignment from Volvo Penta, and students from Chalmers and Penn State University worked together to solve the problem. The result was award-winning!
Boats powered by electricity have become increasingly popular over the last years, but most marinas lack sufficient infrastructure to meet the need for charging. With this problem at hand, Volvo Penta announced a bachelor thesis last fall to get suggestions for solutions. The proposed project was a so-called Capstone project, and as such part of Chalmers strategic partnership with the Volvo Group, and to be carried out by students at Chalmers along with students from Penn State University in Pennsylvania, USA.

As a result, four students from Chalmers and four from Penn State have worked together in this project throughout the spring. And even though the Corona pandemic got in the way of the travel plans, it has been a successful collaboration – in fact, so successful that the students’ Solar Wharf Garage was awarded with first price in the Lockheed Martin Best Project Award. This is the second time a Capstone project wins first price since the start of the collaboration six years ago.

"Project of good quality"

Agnes Tunstad and Aime Vesmes were part of the winning team. Initially, they were both attracted by the opportunity to gain international contacts, but that’s not all:
“It seemed to be a fun project, and the collaboration with a global industry did not make it any less interesting”, says Aime Vesmes, and Agnes Tunstad nods and adds:
“I like boats, and I like renewable energy! In addition, the project seemed to be of good quality.”

Aime Vesmes is ending her third year at Mechanical engineering – together with the other two from Chalmers, Gustaf Malmsjö and Johan Kinell – while Agnes Tunstad is studying Automation and mechatronics. The project therefore entailed not only cooperation across national borders, but also across Chalmers’ programmes.
“Much of the content is the same in our courses, but there is also a lot of differences. I’m happy for everything that this project taught me about the product development process, as this was completely new to me. Had it not been for my project colleagues from Mechanical engineering, this would have been much more difficult”, says Agnes Tunstad.

The project has required a lot of learning, and a lot of time for feasibility studies for all of them:
“Yes, the real challenge has been to learn everything we needed to know. For example, I didn’t know how solar cells worked, or what to think about in a marine environment. We have really learned along the way”, says Aime Vesmes.

Two-boat garage with 18 solar panels

The final product is a two-boat garage where the boats are charged by nine solar panels each. According to the calculations, the payback period is 13 years, and the estimated structural lifetime more than twice as long. The material choices for the garage are guaranteed to hold the least possible risk of rust or other damage, and the panels can also be folded down to protect them from hard weather.

Their collaboration has been performed via Zoom, a digital tool for video communication. The eight students were careful not to divide the project into smaller pieces but to try – as far as possible – to cooperate in all parts. This is reflected in the report, they say; otherwise the report could have ended up “choppy”, as a reflection of the fact that different parts were carried out by different persons. The group believe that this is one of the reasons why they won the award. And as Agnes Tunstad says:
“What’s the point of a global project if you do not work together?”

The response from Volvo Penta has been nothing but positive. In the beginning, the students were in close contact with their contact person, but he also emphasized that he did not want them to be too influenced.
“If our ideas can bring value to Volvo, I’m happy. That’s what it is all about; for us to be able to give ideas for solutions”, says Aime Vesmes.

Changed plans for the exhibition an advantage

The plan was for the Chalmers’ students to travel to Penn State in April. The trip had to be cancelled, for obvious reasons. But the restrictions imposed by the Corona pandemic have not only been negative. For the project participants at Chalmers, winning the award became even more fun as they were able to participate in a video presentation at the virtual exhibition from which the winner was selected.
“Had it just been an exhibition with posters, as it usually is, it probably wouldn’t have felt as satisfying. In that case, we simply would not have been as involved. But now, thanks to the video, we were all included on equal terms”, concludes Agnes Tunstad.

Text: Mia Malmstedt
Photo: Charles Strömblad (photo of Agnes Tunstad and Aime Vesmes) and Gustaf Malmsjö (Solar Wharf Garage and Öckerö marina) 

Published: Fri 28 Aug 2020.