James Madison University

Turbines Give Energy Education a Lift

By: Jordan Pye
Posted: April 18, 2011

PHOTO: Students learn about wind energyNorthumberland students on the day of installation. When it comes to the future of clean energy, ISAT majors know which way the wind blows. Senior students with concentrations in energy share this knowledge with communities by helping install wind turbines through Wind for Schools, a federal program that educates K-12 students about wind energy.

Students Cara Pearson, Jeanie Johnson, Greg Miller, John Bucci and Rob Jennings began working with Wind for Schools last spring semester, and oversaw the first turbine installation at Northumberland Middle/High School in Heathsville, Va. on Feb. 11.

The functional turbine can produce 2.4 kilowatts of electricity during peak wind conditions, and sends data on wind speed and output to a designated computer within the school. Northumberland students can access wind power records nationwide to compare patterns, and can contribute their data to the Wind for Schools national repository in Idaho.

Wind for Schools partners with host schools to help purchase and install wind turbines as educational tools. While the school’s location may or may not be ideal for the turbine to produce energy, students have an interactive opportunity to learn about wind and other alternative energy sources.

“It is important for public school students to learn about wind energy because it is a clean and natural power source that is abundant in the United States,” Pearson said. “Bringing wind energy to grade schools creates an awareness of alternative energy for the next generations.”

PHOTO: Students learn about wind energy Remy Luerrsen teaches students about wind energy. The U.S. is lagging in science and math education, but having a turbine at school can increase student knowledge and interest, Johnson said. Middle school students can collect wind speed data and understand how it translates to their school’s energy use, and can also learn about careers in renewable energy. In addition, the program provides data collection software and trains teachers to incorporate the technology into classroom activities.

“By having access to a wind turbine, the students are given a hands-on learning experience to strengthen their knowledge and preparation for the [Virginia Standards of Learning] tests,” Miller said.

The Department of Energy provides funding for Wind for Schools, and when Virginia joined the organization in 2010, the Virginia Center for Wind Energy at JMU was chosen to administer projects throughout the state. The center’s director of education and outreach, Remy Luerssen, serves as the group’s advisor.

For their senior thesis project, ISAT students with a concentration in wind energy can serve as project managers to install turbines at participating schools. They work with administrators and other students to analyze the site and resources, create a budget, explore fundraising options and assist with the installation.

Currently, Bucci and Jennings are planning an installation for Thomas Harrison Middle School in Harrisonburg, where they teach the student ecology club about wind energy.

“Our project is currently experiencing some issues with permitting and funding, but once those two are cleared up we expect the rest of the project to move smoothly,” Bucci said. “We are planning for the turbine to be installed in the beginning of September when the middle school students are back.”

PHOTO: Students in front of installed turbineSeniors pose in front of the installed turbine. The seniors are pursuing projects at Thomas Harrison Middle School and at Central High School in Woodstock. Luerssen is also working with Henley Middle School in Crozet and assisted with the installation in Northumberland. The group will present their work at the ISAT Senior Symposium on April 15.

“It has been very interesting learning the different aspects of project development and learning the process of making small wind projects a reality,” Pearson said.

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