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Student Competition Prepares the Next Generation of Wind Energy Entrepreneurs

April 11, 2013 - 11:32am

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The <a href="http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/windcompetition">Collegiate Wind Competition</a> is one of several Energy Department-supported programs aiming to inspire the next generation of clean energy leaders. Here, JMU student Greg Miller demonstrates how the blades of a wind turbine work as part the Wind for Schools project. | Photo courtesy of the Virginia Center for Wind Energy.

The Collegiate Wind Competition is one of several Energy Department-supported programs aiming to inspire the next generation of clean energy leaders. Here, JMU student Greg Miller demonstrates how the blades of a wind turbine work as part the Wind for Schools project. | Photo courtesy of the Virginia Center for Wind Energy.

Entrepreneurs and teachers alike recognize that one of the best ways to spur learning and innovation is to offer students a real hands-on project -- a complex task with no single solution, a test that inspires ingenuity. Challenges and design competitions of this nature motivate students to take their newfound knowledge beyond the classroom, serving as a training platform as they prepare to enter the workforce.

The Energy Department’s inaugural Collegiate Wind Competition builds on this philosophy, sending undergraduate students through a multi-part challenge that will expose them to a variety of opportunities in clean energy. Over the next year, student teams from 10 universities across the country will design and construct a lightweight, transportable wind turbine that can be used to power small electronic devices. The competition culminates with a trip in the spring of 2014, when the teams will compete head-to-head. The location of the competition will be announced at a later date.

Wind energy is one of the fastest-growing sources of electricity in the United States, and the industry requires a skilled workforce with talented people from engineering, business and communications backgrounds. Students see wind energy as one of the ways they can help create a cleaner, more secure energy future for our nation. This new competition will help attract students from a wide range of disciplines into this exciting industry.

Teams were chosen through a competitive process, which required them to demonstrate commitment to the project, organization and project planning, fundraising and team support, curriculum and integration, and collaboration and testing. Teams garnered broad support from their institutions in supplying equipment, access to laboratory space and distinguished advisors.  Additionally, the student teams are engaging with their local communities.

While engineering and business management majors make up the bulk of the student competitors, students with other skills such as marketing, computer science and fundraising may also add depth to complete outstanding projects. Much of their work over the next year will be integrated into their schools’ curricula.

Each team's prototype wind turbine will be tested in a wind tunnel under specific conditions and scored for performance, operational safety, component durability and system reliability.

Each team's business plan will be evaluated against criteria including market deployment feasibility, creativity and concept cost.

Teams will debate one another on current wind market drivers and issues, and will be judged on their understanding of the questions posed to them, their communication of potential solutions and their ability to promote constructive dialogue.

In addition to receiving recognition for their school, the team with the best overall score will ship their turbine to Washington, D.C., where it will be featured at the Energy Department’s headquarters building near the National Mall.

The Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory are the primary sponsors of the Collegiate Wind Competition.

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