Small Wind project provides wind power learning for students


Carl Blankenship

The Small Wind Research and Demonstration Site is a set of small wind turbines maintained and experimented on by Appalachian State and is located in Beech Mountain.

Sustainable Technology Practitioner-In-Residence Brent Summerville said the site serves as a research site on the potential energy of the area, a research and development site for new equipment supplied by wind energy manufacturers, and a teaching resource for students to learn about building, operating and maintaining wind turbines.

The number of turbines at the site changes regularly as old machines are decommissioned and newer ones are installed. Currently seven turbines are being operated.

The site also hosts a multi-carrier cell tower and an off-grid solar panel near the control building block.

Summerville said that Appalachian State and Boone have historically been active in wind technology.

In the late 1970s, the wind turbine on Howard’s Knob was the first in the world to break 2 MW of power output.

“I go to Colorado, to these meetings with the National Wind Technology Center and I say I’m from Boone and they go ‘Oh Boone!'” Summerville said. “The guy who wrote that report in 1981 is still working there.”

Summerville said some of the turbines produce electricity that is sold straight back onto the grid while others charge large battery units housed in the control building. Most of the electricity sales go to the land’s owner.  The site is being leased by Appalachian State.

The walls of the control room almost overflow with electronics: full junction boxes, power inverters, battery stations and meters to measure electricity output and sales.

Last week, a team from Rutgers University came to the site to install 3-D printed deflectors on one of the turbines. Summerville said the deflectors should increase the efficiency of the turbine and that this is the first collaboration with another university on the project.

The site’s research is supported in large part by equipment manufacturers.  Summerville said that they deal with several manufacturers at once, changing frequently.

“Since the site gets the students involved and it’s really windy, usually means we can do some R&D for the manufacturers without charging a lot of money,” Summerville said. “We get to try out their products, see how they do, fix them, break them and troubleshoot them.”

Some of the manufacturers that help with the project are Xzeres Wind, Pika Energy, Primus Wind Power and Bergey Windpower.

Josh Brooks, graduate technology student and renewable energy initiative event coordinator, has already been out to work on the site several times.

“Since I’ve been going up there, we took one tower down, assembled a turbine, raised it up and we’ve been testing and tracking its ongoing performance,” Brooks said. “[Friday] we reevaluated the circuitry to the inverters and replaced some fuses on energy monitoring equipment.”

Friday was the first time senior appropriate technology major Jeshua Jolly visited the site.

“It was interesting. It was good to see some of the new materials they’re working with up there, the inverters and how they had it hooked up,” Jolly said. “I would have liked to take down a turbine and look at it but I knew that wasn’t going to happen from the start.”

Jolly said he wants to go back and help put up a new turbine planned to be added to the site later this semester.

Summerville said that in the future, the project will be using drones to collect additional data metrics.

Story by: Carl Blankenship, News Editor