Schools across the United States are taking renewable energy education to a whole new level as they build wind turbines to generate their own power.
In more than 24 states, schools are working on wind energy projects, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The projects range from places like Laker Elementary School in Pigeon, Mich., to North Carolina State University.
The wind turbine projects range from several hundred watts to a couple of megawatts. Student movements like the Energy Action Coalition are pushing renewables such as wind power on campuses and in local communities. Through the Campus Climate Challenge, more than 200 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada have taken steps to reduce their environmental footprint, some by supporting wind power.
In Europe, particularly England, as well as Canada, there are a number of schools adopting wind power. At the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver, research on renewable energies, including wind, has led to a prototype for enhancing power density. BCIT also has a small wind program and hands-on training – one of the few tech schools in the area to offer it, said Merzhad Tabatabaian, project leader of the Renewable Energy Research Technology Center at BCIT.
“We are looking at the areas where research and development are still needed, like ways to enhance output,” Tabatabaian said.
Not only are schools implementing the projects – they are doing a lot of the research and development. More than a dozen have degree programs to prepare the next generation for the wind industry as it is predicted to continue its strong growth through at least 2015, according to a new study by Emerging Energy Research.
The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative Green Schools program has supported feasibility studies and actual design-build of many small school wind turbines. The Vermont Small-Scale Wind Energy Demonstration Program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and administered by the Vermont Department of Public Service supported more of the Vermont school systems wind projects.
Appalachian State University in North Carolina, Ramapo College of New Jersey, University of Massachusetts and more than 100 others have some sort of sustainable energy program educating and conducting research and development.
Schools have also developed small wind power under the Wind for Schools pilot program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and assisted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The program aimed to develop wind projects in Eastern Colorado. The first school district to sign on was the Spirit Lake School District in 1993.
Iowa has the most number of schools and colleges, but school projects consisting of single turbines had been put on hold for the past year due to turbine shortages, said Tom Wind of Wind Utility Consulting. Recently however, projects are being picked back up. There are 11 schools Iowa, one in Colorado and six in Minnesota.
In Texas, the site of the most recent activity, Integrity Wind Power is putting 50 kilowatt turbines in schools in Texas. About five or six in the last year have gone up.
Schools, typically working with their state on projects, are also beginning to partner with private companies in order to receive tax incentives and subsidies.
“In a majority of the schools the economics just don’t work out,” Wind said.
In order to succeed the schools need the right components including good resources, high electricity rates and encouraging policies from the state.
Schools in states with net-metering programs are allowed to take part in selling back excess energy back to local utilities. Along with the Energy Department and the NREL, the American Wind Energy Association offers a variety of resources to help schools implement wind energy technology.
By Kristyn Ecochard
UPI Energy Correspondent
22 June 2007
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