High School Wind Energy Project Inspires College Careers in STEM

By Lynda Engler, Northern Power Systems
Wind is the fastest growing source of renewable energy in the world today and the students at Camden Hills Regional High School in Rockport, Maine, have learned that first hand. Six months after the commissioning of the school’s NPS 100 wind turbine, the students, teachers and community have grown accustomed to the 121-foot-tall, sleek white tower that stands next to the athletic fields.
It took eight years for the Wind Planners, a group of students who had the goal of bringing the turbine to their campus, to conduct the research, get school board permission and town permits and raise the $500,000 needed to erect the turbine. The project was completed and the Northern Power Systems turbine was commissioned on March 29, 2012. Since then, a class of students has graduated, another has begun their high school career, and the coastal Maine community has come together around the project.
Three months after the turbine began generating power, the Class of 2012 donned their caps and gowns, received their diploma’s and walked out into the world, taking their wind power project experience with them. That class has had at least six students who have joined energy and environment projects at their colleges. Two of the Camden Hills Wind Planner alumni are interested in majoring in Environmental Policy.
Over the summer, six students and four teachers attended the week long “Energy for ME” education program of the Island Institute, involving ten island and coastal communities. Students and teachers learned how to better understand their communities’ energy-consumption habits, as well as how to develop effective strategies to increase energy efficiency.
For the incoming class of 2016, the wind turbine is something they have heard about from older siblings, friends, and the community, but as of now, it is a part of their lives and their curriculum. On September 19, the students completed a pre-assessment of the project. They were asked questions such as “What is a kilowatt? How does energy behave?” They will take the assessment again at the end of the year to see how their knowledge has grown. Over the course of the school year, they will use their own energy data to find out what types of scientific questions are investigable. “All the data gathered from the wind turbine is integrated into every aspect of the curriculum at the school. By the end of the year, all freshmen will be able to access, assess and make sense of the data,” said the Wind Planners’ adviser, Margo Murphy, a teacher at the school. A dozen freshmen are already interested in joining the Wind Planners group and several students being exposed to the ongoing renewable energy data have expressed an interest in engineering as a career.
To help the students monitor the ongoing energy production from the NPS 100 turbine, Northern Power Systems installed the new SmartView 3 software two weeks ago. SmartView 3 StudentView provides remote monitoring and reporting features to track energy production and turbine performance from school computers. Data is instantly available on power generated (in kW), wind speed, and averages by day, week, month or any time period they need, and this data has been integrated into lesson plans and classroom discussions.
Although the turbine is up and running, the Wind Planner’s jobs are far from done. While they are still raising funds to complete the payments on the project, they also have a new primary focus: How are they using energy at the school?  The goal is to figure out how to be more energy efficient. Eight schools around the state are involved in the project, monitoring energy loads, almost circuit by circuit, so the students can figure out ways that they can reduce consumption. Using the data they gather from monitoring, they will be able to compare expected energy production to what the turbine is actually producing and explore any differences.
The Wind Planners have five 5 teams: Data Management Team (how much they are producing from the turbine); Communications Team (updates the web page to help increase basic knowledge to the school community and town about what they are producing and what they are doing for energy savings); Outreach Team (conduct tours and make presentations to local groups); Energy Action Team (change school culture around energy use and coordinate related school events); and Fundraising (to close the gap and to fund initiatives focused on improving energy efficiency).
Community reaction to the turbine after six months of operation is excellent. It is absolutely quieter than people expected. CHRHS has sporting events almost daily and all the kids have commented how “cool” it is. There had been some concern that the wind turbine might prove to be a distraction during games, but the students have gotten used to seeing it there, allowing them to focus on their activities.
Surprisingly, the school did actually get one noise complaint, and it came from someone over two miles away. The NPS 100 wind turbine generates only 55 decibels at 100 feet away. (55db is equivalent to an average suburban street). At more than that distance, there is barely any discernible sound at all, so they knew something odd was up. After investigating, it turned out that a neighbor of the person making the complaint had started a new piece of equipment and it wasn’t the turbine at all; but the school was happy to help figure out what the noise issue was. People are finding out that Camden Hills Regional HS’s turbine is a completely different wind machine than those which are causing concerns in other areas around the state. Its quiet contribution to the lives of the students, teachers, and community is welcomed by everyone involved.

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1 Comment

Matthew Kenney

Have you thought of introducing apps into the learning ennviorment so that it will keep the younger ones involved but st the same time the ones with passion and a career in it a learning tool on them at all times to monitor them?,

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