After a yearlong process of designing and building a wind turbine, a group of University of Colorado Boulder graduates put their work to the test during their first Collegiate Wind Competition.
Even though they did not win any of the individual contests or place in the top three overall teams, it was the experience that mattered most.
“If it does work out great, if it doesn’t work out, there is a lot we can learn from this experience that we can carry on next year to make our design better,” said Simon Grzebien, who graduated this month with a degree in mechanical engineering from CU Boulder.
From Monday to Wednesday, CU Boulder’s Wind Team was one of 12 teams from universities across the country who participated in the annual competition founded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The competition was in San Antonio.
Patrick Gilman, program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technology Office, said the department started hosting the competition in 2014 in an effort to give students more experience working with renewable energies.
“The idea is to bridge the gap between students who are interested in renewables but don’t have a clear pathway in and industries who report to us that they get lots of applications from lots of students that are promising in their field but don’t have a lot of experience in wind energy,” he said.
Each year, between 15 and 20 schools apply for the CWC, Gilman said. Schools that aren’t selected are invited to participate as learn-along teams, which allows them to complete the project but not compete.
Claire Isenhart, who also graduated this month with a degree in mechanical engineering from CU Boulder, said another team of senior mechanical engineers participated in the CWC for the first last year as a learn-along team. Her team was CU Boulder’s first team to attend and participate in the competition. Both teams used the project for their senior design projects, which is a capstone project engineering students complete during their last year.
“I really want to work in renewable energies,” she said. “I had a previous research position in wind turbine generators, so to have a hands-on project where we actually learn the fundamentals of wind turbines, wind turbine design and wind farm development, is incredibly beneficial because of the career I would like to have.”
The requirements for the CWC change every year. This year, the challenge was to create a fixed-bottom wind turbine prototype for testing in a wind tunnel with a sea simulation tank; a site plan and cost of energy analysis for an offshore wind farm; and a presentation on wind energy careers, community engagement and outreach.
Grzebien said each student is not only required to serve on the team in the capacity of an engineer but also to fulfill a role. He served as the team’s financial manager.
Through his position, he learned how to organize money, how to spend money and how to do financial analysis. He needed to evaluate the environmental factors of a wind farm, how to get all pieces of equipment out to the chosen site and how to connect the wind farm back to shore to allow people actually use the electricity produced.
“It makes you a much more marketable mechanical engineer because you know these other things and you know how to combine them all together,” Grzebien said. “We had three of our members start from nothing and learn the other side of a field that mechanical engineers would not be familiar with but they need to be in today’s job market.”
He said attending the actual competition was exciting for his team because it was the first time they were able to test their turbine in a wind tunnel.
“We tried to make due with bigger industrial fans or sometimes popped the turbines outside the top of a car roof to try to get some data, but really having a tunnel is really exciting to get some cool data and to fine tune the wind turbine and try to get the best results,” Grzebien said.
Julie Steinbrenner, executive director for the mechanical engineering senior design program at CU Boulder, said the competition gives students the ability to focus on a topic that interests them and apply what they learned as undergraduate students.
“We have other project classes related to energy, but they are not necessarily hands-on pieces,” she said. “Once you actually build it, implement and test it, you really start to learn what goes into the technologies we work on.”