Students should use real data to develop practical skills--but the problem is, they don't always have access to it

Educating students using real-world problems, with real-world data

Students should use real data to develop practical skills--but the problem is, they don't always have access to it

For students in STEM programs, learning about data analytics is a critical piece of the curriculum. Unfortunately, most students only have access to fixed, static data that can’t be collected and analyzed in real-time, which doesn’t simulate the business environments they will work in after graduation.

Today, the industry demands “translators” who can make connections between data and data analytical techniques to drive operational improvements — and that training must start in the classroom before entering the professional world.

Related content: How data and technology will drive the future of higher ed

University of California, Davis, has embedded this thinking into our curriculum for years, working with OSIsoft — a leader in operational technology and developer of the PI System — to form the backbone of our energy management, sustainability operations, and student programs.

Improving the art of winemaking

Winemaking has evolved into a blend of art and science, leaning heavily on winemaker expertise as well as critical production markers. It’s susceptible to changes in soil, drought, process issues, human error, and more.

To combat these factors, the UC Davis Department of Viticulture and Enology uses student research to drive sustainable, data-driven production facilities and processes to turn a winemaker’s vision into reality on the over 80 acres of vineyards that we cultivate on campus and in nearby Napa Valley.

The Department’s main goals are to achieve carbon neutrality, net positive energy, and reduce water usage for a multifaceted fermentation process. As a part of the University’s “Numerical Analysis of Fermentations Class,” students use the PI System to capture fermentation data that is typically “noisy”– that is, data with a large amount of additional meaningless information. They are then tasked with deciding how they should work with this data, leveraging numerical filtrations, smoothing filters and finding the derivative to determine the fermentation rate and health. Students can also use this data to analyze energy and carbon dioxide rates.

The research goes far beyond simply monitoring existing conditions; the goal is to predict future issues so that adjustments can be made before they occur. Using the kinetic model of fermentation as a baseline, researchers can input real-time data against preset conditions, understand current batch characteristics and predict how the batch will progress over the next few days. With this information, the team can identify future problems and take action well before quality is compromised, such as cleaning fermentation tanks or adjusting cooling temperatures.

The winery regenerates its water as a way to reduce usage, and since the fermentation process requires both hot and cool water, they use the data to determine what tomorrow’s energy needs are to control the fermentation temperature. This is done for every single in-progress fermentation process because they’re all going at different rates and are at different points in the cycle.

Ultimately, the studies undertaken at the Center and enabled by OSIsoft’s PI System are furthering our vision to enable the Teaching and Research Winery to operate on a net-zero water, electric and carbon basis.

Driving campus sustainability

Year after year, UC Davis’ student enrollment and campus infrastructure increases, but energy consumption decreases thanks to the student research done in the Energy Conservation Office (ECO). The office has a plethora of student-led projects that have all contributed to the larger goal: achieving carbon neutrality by 2025.

ECO regularly monitors the campus’ water, natural gas, steam/hot/chilled water and electricity data. One recent project involved tasking students with conducting an audit on various building meters to ascertain the data’s quality, while also developing a database to store the information for historical knowledge. With that data, another set of students built the Campus Energy Education Dashboard to display the intensity of the energy used by the buildings on campus.














A critical detail we stress to all our students is how buildings use energy differently, depending on how the building is used. This concept is emphasized on the Campus Energy Education Dashboard, where we highlight building types as a factor impacting energy use intensity.

In an effort to reach students outside the office, ECO set up academic partnerships with other departments, providing datasets to students who spend a term cleaning, visualizing or learning more about how data is used and the decisions that can be made from it.

Some of those projects involved using drones for rooftop audits of building meters, creating climate change solutions, assisting with the path to zero net energy and implementing energy policies based on data.

As a result of the academic projects, the campus has saved over $13M since 2009 and has enabled a 54% reduction in energy use intensity since 2001. In 2019, the campus also received about 90% of its electricity supply from renewable or carbon-neutral sources.

When students leave college, they don’t often have real-world experience. By providing experiences with tools that are available on the market and data that is generated on our campus, students become better prepared to handle their first work assignment.

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