Low’s solar decathlon work complements M.Eng.ME courses

9/11/2020 Maddie Yang

Written by Maddie Yang

Khee Lim Low
Khee Lim Low
Khee Lim Low came to Illinois to pursue his Master of Engineering in Mechanical Engineering (M.Eng.ME) degree because of his interest in sustainable energy systems. It’s no wonder that he soon found interest in the Illinois Solar Decathlon (ISD) team and co-led their Design Team last year. Low said he loves the problem-solving and collaboration that’s involved with ISD, which is comprised of both graduate and undergraduate students.

The Design Team retrofitted the University Laboratory High School building, which is over 100 years old, to be more energy-efficient. Low was on the energy analysis team where he ran simulations on the building, giving feedback to his team members so they could effectively design new systems. This role required him to communicate with his teammates on other subteams consistently, making his transition to co-project lead very smooth. At the end of the year they presented their project to the faculty and services department, showing them what sustainable and economically feasible improvements could be made to the building. 

A model of the Uni High School building from the ISD team.
A model of the Uni High School building from the ISD team.
This year, Low is working on the Build Team, a biannual competition, in comparison to the Design Competition he worked on last year, which occurs annually. Every two years the Design Team works to design and build a net zero or net positive house in Urbana-Champaign. (Net zero is when the energy consumption of the house is equivalent to the energy production, while net positive is when the energy production exceeds energy consumption, actually producing energy that can be redistributed.)

Low continues to work on simulations for the building including work on solar panels for the house. Many factors have to be considered in the placement of the solar panels to ensure they aren’t covered during part of the year either by surrounding trees or by other panels on the roof. He also ran a simulation which noted that the heating and ventilation systems were not providing enough heat during the winter, causing the HVAC team to upgrade their system to be much more efficient. This change decreased their energy usage by 20 to 30 percent, which gave them a larger leeway for electric vehicle and charging stations (instead of adding extra solar panels to meet the demand). 

“Illinois Solar Decathlon promotes multidisciplinary teamwork … Engineers do work with architects and also scientists, analysts, and economists … [we] work together to focus on designing structures (such as houses, apartments, and schools) and also building houses that will be sustainable,” said Low.

He said that many graduate students just need to pursue their hobbies and talk to an RSO (registered student organization) they are interested in, as many RSOs would love to have qualified graduate students on their team. 

“One of my favorite parts about Illinois Solar Decathlon is the problem-solving because a lot of what I’m doing is new to me… And when I’m finally able to figure out the issue and show it to my teammates, or when we encourage each other, that’s the best part.”

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This story was published September 11, 2020.