Feeling the flow in their second year attending the competition, Virginia Tech’s Wind Turbine Team took second-place honors at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition in Boulder, Colorado, on May 9.

Designed to prepare the next generation of workers for a career in the wind industry, the Collegiate Wind Competition tasked 12 university teams from across the United States to research, design, build, and test a fully functional, small-scale wind turbine. The challenges within the competition encouraged students to visualize the full cycle of wind energy production, from financial planning all the way through to construction and deployment.

At Virginia Tech, the Wind Turbine Team is a diverse, multidisciplinary design team with approximately 40 undergraduate students from the College of Engineering, the College of Science, and the College of Architecture and Urban Studies. Committed to a future that utilizes wind energy as a reliable and clean energy source, students intertwine academic coursework with tangible, hands-on learning as they plan for careers in renewable energy.

At a glance, this competition appears to be solely engineering based. However, students from a variety of backgrounds are vital in the success of the team, as key components of the contest are related to finance, project development, public policy, and community outreach.

Matthew Kuester, an assistant research professor in the Kevin T. Crofton Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering and the team's faculty advisor, sees the potential of Virginia’s growing wind energy industry and cultivating the talents of undergraduates as an investment for the future.   

“In addition to the Wind Turbine Team, students can learn about wind turbines and wind energy by taking classes featured in the ‘energy and the environment’ track in the aerospace and ocean engineering undergraduate curriculum,” Kuester explained. “We’re providing students the opportunity to learn about wind energy, both inside and outside of the classroom. I’m very proud of what these students accomplished this year, and I look forward to seeing what our students put together next year.” 

The competition, held at Colorado's National Wind Technology Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, called for teams to create an effective mechanical, electrical, and aerodynamic wind turbine that can withstand sustained wind speeds up to 45 mph.

Teams were also required to develop an energy cost analysis for the siting plan on a hypothetical utility wind farm, maximizing energy production and balancing environmental and community impacts.

Finally, teams prepared a technical design report that explained how they engineered, built, and tested their wind turbine in advance of the competition.

With the goal of improving on their performance at last year’s competition, Virginia Tech's Wind Turbine Team began working on design and simulations of their turbine in fall 2018. The team built their wind turbine early in the spring semester and made several changes to the design after multiple rounds of testing in the aerospace and ocean engineering department’s Open Jet Wind Tunnel in Goodwin Hall. The students also reached out to renewable energy financing professionals to better understand the financing behind wind farms.  

AOE Wind Turbine Team
Engineering students attending the 2019 Collegiate Wind Competition included Laura Burger, of civil and environmental engineering; Adham Nabhan, of mechanical engineering; Chris Miller, of mechanical engineering; Alex McLea, of aerospace and ocean engineering; Minh Ngo, of electrical and computer engineering; and Cole Casteel, of electrical and computer engineering.

In Boulder over the course of the four-day competition, six student team members and Kuester represented Virginia Tech for live testing in an on-site wind tunnel to prove the validity of their design and delivered presentations of their financial plan and technical design report. After their first round of testing, the team made on-site modifications to their computer code to account for differences in altitude and variances in the competition’s on-site wind tunnel.

Virginia Tech placed second overall, second in tunnel testing, second in technical design, and third in the siting category. The team also won the rules and regulations category for the second year in a row.

Written by Jama Green