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Power Electronics Instruction in the USAand Canada: Topics, Curricula andTrends*
HERBERT L. HESS
Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Idaho, Moscow, Idaho, USA.E-mail: hhess@thayer.ee.uidaho.edu
A review of the evolution of power electronics instruction at universities in the USA and Canada is presented. Recent surveys in the literature on structure and content of existing programs aresummarized. Undergraduate power electronics courses, laboratories, and projects are outlined. The place power electronics occupies within curricula is given with recommendations for improvement.Trends that may affect power electronics instruction are identified.
INTRODUCTION
BY THE YEAR 2000, about 60% of all electricenergy consumed in the US and Canada, will beprocessed through at least one power electronicstage [1, 2]. Such a demand requires engineers whounderstand the fundamentals of power electronicsand has led to the rise of a number of programsteaching this subject.This paper presents a review of power elec-tronics programs in the United States andCanada. Results of surveys show that over 100such programs exist, varying in depth from just asingle undergraduate course or two to well-funded, established programs that include gradu-ate courses and cutting-edge research. Thoughthere is little agreement on any universal form orfocus for a graduate program, some commonground among most undergraduate programsexists. After presenting a summary of the surveys,the scope of this paper narrows to undergraduatecurricula and issues. A common set of topics forundergraduate instruction is presented, along withsupporting laboratories, projects, and textbooks.The place in the curriculum occupied by powerelectronics is then described and ideas forimproving that place are proposed. Finally, sometrends that may influence power electronicsinstruction are identified.
GENERAL CURRICULUM
Power electronics instruction is ordinarilyfound within an energy conversion portion of theelectrical engineering curriculum. The under-graduate curriculum structure is remarkablyconsistent from program to program. Graduateinstruction, on the other hand, tends to be focusedin the research direction of the school at hand.
Survey of courses at US and Canadian universities
Professor Mohan conducted a survey in 1995 todetermine the state of power electronics instructionin the US and Canada [3]. He polled all collegesand universities through their department chairs, amailing list that is easy to get from the ABET orNEEDHA directories. From 119 responses, heassembled courses under six categories: machines,power electronics, drives, utility applications,switchmode power supplies, and power semi-conductor devices. For undergraduates, coursesappeared in each of the first four categories. Asshown in Fig. 1, machines courses with no powerelectronics are the most numerous with 85 schoolsoffering a machines course, of which 57 require itfor an electrical engineering baccalaureate degree.About half offer an introductory power electronicscourse and nearly all of those make it an optionalpart of the baccalaureate degree. Machines courseswith power electronics content number about adozen, but those courses that have drives as theprimary focus at the undergraduate level can becounted on one hand. Graduate courses cover therange of opportunities, but tend to support thelocal research effort [3]. There is substantial agree-ment between Mohan's poll and that of the IEEEPower Engineering Society, though the latter liststhe courses in somewhat more detail [4].
Topics for complete courses within a powerelectronics curriculum
In an informal poll conducted in 1996, ProfessorBatarseh found graduate programs addressingmore than three of the topics listed in Table 1 tobe rare. He also found undergraduate drives
* Accepted 15 July 1998.
282
Int. J. Engng Ed.
Vol. 14, No. 4, p. 282±288, 1998 0949-149X/91Poing ed in JBriailn
 
courses to be uncommon. Poll results are shown inTable 1 [5, 6].Machines courses consist of theory and analysisof electric machinery. A few teach some machinedesign. Texts by A. E. Fitzgerald [7], M. S. Sarma[8], G. McPherson [9] and most others outlinecourses of this nature in their prefaces. An exampleof an undergraduate machines course with drivesincorporated into the syllabus was presented at theASEE Annual Conference in 1996 [10]. Under-graduate courses focusing primarily on drives arefew and exist mostly in schools with a researchfocus in that area. Examples are found at theuniversities of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Akron(Ohio) [4, 5, 11]. For the balance of this paper, thefocus narrows to undergraduate power electronicsinstruction.
INTRODUCTORY POWER CONVERTERSCOURSE
There is general agreement as to the content of an introductory undergraduate power converterscourse, though the general focus of a particularschool's research effort and industry support maylead to emphasis on a particular subset of topicsand relatively lighter coverage of others [5]. Such acourse usually does address the whole range of topics outlined later in this section, but the loca-tion of depth and emphasis varies. This is acompromise between introducing a core set of topics universally considered necessary to under-standing the subject and the mere impracticality of addressing every topic in depth [5]. The course hasbecome a course in fundamentals in many cases, afirst principles approach with instruction and a fewexamples on how to apply these principles [11, 12].Those institutions offering such a course usuallydo so at the senior undergraduate level. Durationis ordinarily one semester or one or two quarters.Some form of graduate credit is typically allowedfor graduate students who take this course [4].
Typical undergraduate introductory powerelectronics course topics
A typical introductory power converters courseaddresses the topics identified in the outlineshown in Table 2 [5]. This outline is similar toone compiled by Akagi in his survey of Japaneseinstruction in power electronics [13]. Absent from
Fig. 1. Course offerings in power electronics in the US and Canada [3].Table 1. Power electronics course topicsUndergraduate courses Graduate CoursesMachines* Second Power ElectronicsIntroductory Power Power Semiconductor DevicesElectronics* Switchmode Power SuppliesDrives* Control and Stability oElectric DrivesEMI Problems and ReductionTechniquesUtility ApplicationsSpecial and Advanced Topics*Often has concurrent lab.Note: No individual US or Canadian university offerscomplete courses on all of these topics.
Power Electronics Instruction in the US and Canada
283
 
this outline are silicon controlled rectifier (SCR)commutation circuits and cycloconverters, topicsthat once held a prominent place in many coursesof this nature. Resonant converters and softswitching are beginning to appear in courses atthis level as a means of teaching circuit analysistechniques once done with SCR commutationcircuits [14].
Textbooks
A survey of 119 schools in the US and Canada[3] revealed that the three most popular texts for anintroductory power converters course are those byKassakkian [40], Mohan [23], and Rashid [32].References [15±43] are a bibliography of texts inprint for Power Electronics as of approximatelyOctober 1996. Closely related to these texts aretexts that address variable speed drives [44±56].
A second 
(
 graduate
)
course
As noted earlier in this paper, there exists nogeneral agreement on the content or structure fora second power electronics course, one that hasthe introductory power converters course as aprerequisite. Such second courses are invariablygraduate courses intended to prepare the studentfor research for the associated graduate program[4, 5].
UNDERGRADUATE LABS
Undergraduate laboratory instruction empha-sizes the major application topics found in theintroductory power electronics course. The litera-ture documents such laboratory courses at Illinois[57], Wisconsin [58], New York [59], Pennsylvania(Penn State and Bucknell) [60, 61], Toronto [62],Georgia Tech [63], Akron [11], and Missouri-Columbia [64]. There is general agreementthroughout the literature on the specific topics soaddressed:
.
Modern switching semiconductor devices,components, and their characteristics
.
Magnetics, including inductors and trans-formers
.
Diode circuits and rectifiers (AC to DCconversion)
.
Phase controlled rectifiers (AC to DCconversion)
.
DC to DC switchmode converters: non-isolatedand isolated
.
Switchmode DC to AC convertersSimulation is an important aspect of power elec-tronics laboratory instruction. The perception thatsoftware is specialized and expensive need not betrue. Mohan [22] and Rashid [32] have PSPICEsimulations that complement their texts. Studentsalready understand PSPICE by the time they entera power electronics course, so the software learn-ing curve is not a problem. Other simulationlaboratory work uses MATLAB and MathCAD[65]. A nice set of simulation laboratory exercisesfor SABER, a more expensive and specializedsoftware package, has been developed by Bass atGeorgia Tech [66].
PROJECTS
Power electronics projects require a much widerrange of student expertise than initially may beexpected. To be successful, students must effec-tively use concepts from electromechanics, heatgeneration and transfer, circuit design andlayout, analog and digital signal processing andcontrol, filtering, electromagnetics, circuit protec-tion, and microprocessor application. Therefore,the interdisciplinary nature of power electronicspresents a wealth of project possibilities.A number of projects follow from the laboratorytopics list given above. Several of these possibilitiesare listed in [59]. Because students see an imme-diate use for a good power supply, designingand building the same is a popular project.Fortunately, such a project follows nicely from
Table 2. Outline of topics found in a typical introductorypower electronics courseI. IntroductionA. OverviewB. Applications of Power ElectronicsII. Review MaterialA. Modern Switching Semiconductor DevicesB. Switching CharacteristicsC. The Ideal SwitchD. Switching FunctionsE. MagneticsF. TransformersG. Three-phase SystemsIII. Diode Circuits and Rectifiers (AC to DC Conversion)A. Rectifier ConceptsB. Single Phase Half and Full Wave Diode Rectifierswith1. Resistive Load2. Inductive Load3. Capacitive LoadC. Three Phase Full-wave RectifiersIV. Phase Controlled Rectifiers (AC to DC Conversion)A. Natural and Forced CommutationB. Principle of Phase Controlled ConvertersC. Single Phase Full Wave ConvertersD. Three Phase Half Wave ConvertersV. DC to DC Switchmode ConvertersA. Concept of Source Conversion: source vs. loadB. Linear RegulatorsC. Switchmode Converters1. Non-isolated Switchmode Convertersa. (Buck, Boost, Buck-Boost, Cuk)b. Continuous and Discontinuous ConductionModes2. Isolated Switchmode Power Convertersa. Single-ended Isolated Forward Converterb. Flyback ConverterVI. Switchmode DC to AC ConvertersA. Principles of OperationB. Single Phase InvertersC. Three Phase Inverters
H. L. Hess
284

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