Wind Power at Whitman College
Over the last semester, I learned a valuable lesson through my exploration
of wind turbines and the difficulties of starting a project, such as this, from
scratch. This internship has had many bright spots coupled with times of frustration.
I realized that my original objectives were very broad and too large to be completed
in a semester. When I first started conducting my research, I had no direction,
and so I felt that I was fumbling around in the dark. All I had were two e-mails,
and an idea that it would be beneficial for Whitman College and the community
if a wind turbine was installed on top of the radio tower on the Reid Campus
Center. My knowledge on wind energy was current, but that wasn’t the issue.
I had to figure out the best type of wind turbine, and make contacts with people
that I have never met before and rely on their opinions. After talking with
Amy Molitor (my first contact), I gathered names and created a vague outline
of steps to be accomplished. My original objectives were to assess the most
suitable wind turbine model for Whitman College. In my assessment I would explore
price, wind speed, aesthetics and compare the amount of power generated by each
model. I also wanted to evaluate the best place to install a wind turbine and
determine where the generated power would be utilized and how it would be converted
from DC to AC power. I didn’t realize that these were very broad and complicated
goals until I started. I think this internship differed from others because
I had no ending point, no structure, and no time frame. The success of the project
depended on how much time and effort I put forth to make the internship a valuable
experience. In this final report I will try and explain my findings throughout
the entire semester and share my future objectives for the project.
One of my first meetings was with Bob Carson who explained the complications of converting the DC power created by the wind turbine to AC power, which could be used in the Reid Campus Center or elsewhere. His idea was to use the power in the batteries when fully charged to operate KWCW, or serve as a back-up generator if the power went out. An alternate idea was to use the power to operate a water fountain outside Hunter Conservatory that would run when the turbine was producing energy, thus promoting renewable energy and creating an educational tool for students, faculty and the community. He explained the conversion as follows: wind travels into the turbine, and the rotation of the blades produces DC power which is stored in the 12V, 24V or 48V storage batteries. Then the power would travel through a DC/AC inverter and the AC power could then supply KWCW or another power source. The incoming DC voltage will be the factor to determine the type of inverter necessary. Xantrex Technology has the following three models which are highly recommended: 1) SW 4024 – approximately $3,500 and able to handle an incoming 24VDC, 2) SW 4048 – same price but able to handle an incoming 48VDC, 3) Prosine 2.0 – $2,000 watt inverter for a 12v system. The turbine model will determine the type of inverter to be purchased based on voltage. Lastly, he also proposed the idea of placing the turbine onto the science building, in an effort to keep developing renewable technology in the science department.
My next investigation was to research the different types of wind turbines on the market, and figure out which one would be most feasible for Whitman. I explored a few websites and I found Southwest Windpower had the best information. I’m not going to include the specifics on the different types of turbines, because it is very well expressed on my poster which includes the price, voltage, benefits and disadvantages. The three different types of turbines that I would recommend at this point are: 1) AIR 403 Wind Module, 2) Whisper H40, 3) Whisper H80. Each of these models has a specific amount of power that can be produced with a relatively similar initial wind speed. At first, I thought the AIR 403 would be the best model, but now, after making contact with John Supp (the director of sales for Canada and the USA for Southwest Windpower) I think the Whisper H80 would be a more appropriate model to purchase. To find the details on these turbines, please refer to my poster.
The next issue to tackle dealt with the placement of the turbine on either the roof of Reis or the science building. The original idea was to mount it on top of the radio tower taking advantage of the height and optimizing the amount of wind. After e-mailing Patti Moss (science division officer) and Brian Dohe (Director of Conferences and Events) they both directed me to contact Travis Watts (Maintenance Supervisor at the Physical Plant) who dealt with the transfer of the tower from the previous Student Union Building to Reid Campus Center. He was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. I proposed the current ideas and immediately he had many reservations about installing it on the radio tower. He sensed a liability fiasco would occur with the company Hatfield and Dawson (the electrical engineers) and the process of clearing the project would not be worth the stress and frustration. He said the FCC would also have regulations that I would conflict with the project and apparently the FCC is very hard to contact and the paperwork is very tedious and complicated.
I had to make a decision. I could pursue the radio tower idea and hassle with the engineers, the FCC etc., or I could forget the idea and try to just install the turbine on the roof of the science building or Reid. After talking with Kevin Pogue and Larry North who also conversed with Andrea Dobson, a couple of ideas arose. First, there is no beneficial power source that I could utilize within the science building – unlike the radio station in the RCC. There also seemed to be some concern from the astronomy department. Andrea Dobson expressed her concern that a turbine could possibly interfere with the observatory and lab – this limited the area in which I could place the turbine. The only ideas of energy use was to add a glass display case with either light bulbs or some other indicating device that allowed students/faculty to see how much energy was produced at a given time. After evaluating all these different opinions, I decided it made the most sense to send copies of the structural roof design to John Supp at Southwest Windpower and he could make an assessment on a location that would best optimize the wind and be aesthetically pleasing as well. I had to get in touch with Travis Watts again, and copy the plans and to send to John. At this point, I am in the process of mailing the plans to John, so I currently don’t have an assessment of the roofs.
The reason why I looked at the science building was because I thought that the wind speed might be greater on the science building due to the type of trees that are currently surrounding the building. Wind speed has been another difficult variable that I’ve struggled with over the last semester. I obtained an average regional wind speed from the Walla Walla regional airport of 8.6 mph. However, there is no anemometer close to the campus of Whitman College that I could use as a reference. The location of the airport is in a wide open space and does not have the impeding trees that are on campus. Therefore I assumed the wind speed on campus would be significantly lower. Most of the wind turbine start speeds are approximately 7 mph. I expressed my concern with John Supp and he said that most airport anemometers are situated under 30’ and for every 30’ increase there is usually a .7 mph increase, which translates to about a 30% increase in output. He also said that if I were to install a turbine on the roof, I would need to place it at least above the tree line. I have not yet gathered the height of Reid or the science building, but I assume that the buildings are above 30’. I also thought it could be possible to install an anemometer over the summer and gather information. A model type by Weather Wizard would be appropriate and it would tell me the instantaneous wind speed and direction. I would also add an optional data logger that would calculate the actual wind speed over time. At this time I do not have a price for the model but I want to wait and see the results I receive from John Supp. Depending on his opinions of the buildings, I might install an anemometer over the summer if at all feasible.
It is difficult to express all the little things that I have done in this internship. I think that is the most frustrating aspect of this internship. I am not focusing on one variable because there are many variables that I have to explore. My original goal of installing a turbine is very ambitious for one semester. I had no specific path and no time constraints or structure. Most of my work consisted of little steps such as e-mails, which created problems later in the semester because the people I tried to contact took a few weeks to return my inquiries. At this point, I am in the process of sending structural plans to Southwest Windpower for an assessment of where to install a turbine and if a mounting kit would work on the type of structure currently in place. I also have a meeting next week with Tom Talbert who is responsible for the technical support of KWCW. After meeting with him I hope to have an understanding of how the power will be transferred if at all possible to KWCW. Following the meeting I also hope to finalize the type of inverter needed, and create a structural drawing of where a turbine would be installed. My future objectives included obtaining a measurement of the wind speed at the height of the proposed turbine, and using this measurement to determine the most appropriate model. My final hope would be to present a structural design that included a turbine, inverter, and wiring layouts, with a final cost to install the entire project to Whitman College. However, I do not see this happening until at least next semester.
There were many positive and negatives that arose from this internship experience. I think a positive experience was that this project forced me to make contact with people I have never met, and force me outside my comfort zone. I find that I have enough confidence in myself to talk to people that I have never met before and convey an idea such as this and obtain the needed information in a positive manner. But after this internship I am even more confident in approaching new people. However, it is difficult and frustrating when people don’t respond to e-mails or phone calls which inhibit progress. It is difficult to keep bugging people with e-mails etc. after they have not responded. Another beneficial experience arose when I dealt with the changes in my objectives and goals as I found new information. I had to adjust my focus many times over the course of the semester, depending on what type of information I wanted to obtain. These changes I felt did not inhibit my progress nor deter my determination and outlook. I think when some people experience a frustration, it is difficult to move past, but when I became frustrated, I thought how I could alter my search, or I just let the problem sit and I moved on to another area that needed to be researched.
If I had this internship again, I would recommend making smaller more realistic goals and create a specific structure that could be followed. I would have also created a timeline of dates that I should have research accomplished by, only because when you have a project with no specific time frame some days or weeks you put a lot of hours into the project and other days or weeks there was a minimal amount of effort. Often, I would write an e-mail or two a day, other days I would spend a couple of hours looking at things, and some weeks I wouldn’t do anything. It all depended on when certain people returned messages and when I had a chance to converse with some people.
In closing, I hope to pursue this project over the summer and into next fall. I feel that I’ve established some good contacts, but the project will get trickier and more complicated as I find out more specifics, especially the structural plans of Reid Campus Center and the Science Building. My interest and knowledge of wind turbines has greatly increased over the semester and I get really excited when I see the turbines out in Wallula, or talk about alternative energy. The possibilities are wide open and I hope someday to see a turbine on the campus of Whitman College.
The following is a list of contacts I have made throughout the semester:
1) Larry North – Science Division Equipment Support firstname.lastname@example.org
2) Kevin Pogue – Geology Department email@example.com
3) Bob Carson – Professor of Environmental Studies and Geology firstname.lastname@example.org
4) Brian Dohe – Director of Conferences and Events of Reid Campus Center email@example.com 509-527-5251
5) Travis Watts – Maintenance Supervisor at the Physical Plant firstname.lastname@example.org 527-5999 or cell: 520-0849
6) John Supp – Director of Sales – USA and Canada for Southwest Windpower email@example.com fax: 928-779-1485
2131 N. First Street
Flagstaff, AZ 86004
7) Dan Park – Director of the Physical Plant firstname.lastname@example.org 527-5999
8) Tom Osbourne – BPA “original brain” email@example.com
9) Hatfield & Dawson – Electrical Engineers of Reid Campus Center firstname.lastname@example.org
10) Tom Talbert – General Manager @KWCW email@example.com
11) Allegra Sloman – Customer Service Operation for Xantrex Technology Inc. Allegra.Sloman@xantrex.com