Wind turbines enhance renewable energy curriculum at WSU Vancouver

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 10:52am -- brenda_alling

Wind turbines on a sunny dayVANCOUVER, WASH. — Five small-scale wind turbines have been installed near the 50th Avenue entrance to Washington State University Vancouver. The turbines are a key feature in the School of Engineering and Computer Science’s two-year-old renewable energy option track.

“The new mini wind farm on our campus will be an exciting real-world laboratory for the students,” said Hakan Gurocak, professor and director of the School of Engineering and Computer Science. “They will be able to collect real data, correlate the data to the design of the turbines and look for ways to improve the design for better performance.”

During the spring semester, graduate students will be involved in “shakedown testing” of the wind turbines to make sure they work as expected. Students in the Fundamentals of Energy class will design and test improvements for turbine performance.

The turbines are not wired into the electrical grid but do generate a small amount of power to charge batteries for teaching purposes.

Small size minimizes impact

The wind turbines stand atop 30-foot poles in an open space where wind speed tends to be higher than on other areas of the campus.

Because the blades measure only about four feet in diameter and turn slowly, they are relatively quiet, and any potential effect on birds is minimized. The wind farm will be closely monitored for its impact on wildlife.

Program addresses a growing need

Designed to prepare students for jobs in a growing field, renewable energy classes began in spring 2012. A $250,000 gift from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust funded development of the option track, the mini wind farm and other upgrades to laboratories in the engineering school.

The interdisciplinary curriculum involves faculty and students in mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science. “We want students to be able to effectively communicate with and work with people in other fields to design better renewable energy systems,” said Stephen Solovitz, associate professor of mechanical engineering. Solovitz teaches the Fundamentals course and manages the wind farm along with the Facilities office.

Classes in renewable energy often fill to capacity, Solovitz said. More than 100 students have participated in the program since 2012. There are approximately 35 students in the option track. Several students are now pursuing jobs and internships in the field.

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MEDIA CONTACT Brenda Alling, Office of Marketing and Communications, 360-546-9601,

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