Wind Energy Club prepares to compete in Collegiate Wind Competition


By Mariah Chuprinski

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Each year since 2014, the Penn State Wind Energy Club has competed in the United States Department of Energy (DOE) Collegiate Wind Competition, taking home more first place wins than any other team. With hard work, flexibility and new, creative designs, they plan to do the same this year.

For the competition, Penn State undergraduates — predominately from engineering majors — come together to design and manage a real-world project related to wind energy production, gaining hands-on industry experience along the way. A number of teams, selected by the DOE, compete each year, with a final demonstration in late spring or early summer. This year, they’ll present their final project virtually in June to several panels of judges.

Mark Miller, Penn State assistant professor of aerospace engineering and co-adviser of the club, explained that students lead every aspect of the project, from project development and management to technical design and financial planning.

“The first part of the competition is scored on project development, where students work on the layout and design of a wind farm, which includes the financial side, the physical layout, the resource utilization,” he said. “And in parallel to project development, students design a to-scale wind turbine with computer modeling software that is used in industry and test it on site in wind tunnels. They create the whole engineered system including the blades, generator and electronics. The competition is unique in that perspective.”

Last year, the team designed a small wind turbine that was tested against those of 12 other universities and developed a design for a wind farm in eastern Colorado. Penn State placed second in the project development category and fourth overall. Due to the pandemic, students had to quickly pivot from a planned in-person event in Denver, Colorado, to a virtual webinar format.

In previous years, the team took first place in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019, and finished second in 2018.

This year, the team is to research, design and build a wind turbine “for deployment in highly uncertain times, with a large degree of unknown risks and delays,” according to DOE’s specifications. Accordingly, the theme for this year’s competition is adaptability.

“Students use the same tools to design their model as they would to design a full-scale turbine,” Miller said. “It’s actually much harder to design a small, energy-efficient turbine, as it takes paying attention to the aerodynamics and rotor design. It’s a challenge to make a small rotor work well.”

As part of the preparation process, the team tests their turbine designs in wind tunnels on campus to make adjustments and improve the system ahead of the competition. The team of 22 students is broken up into four sub-teams: aerodynamics, circuits and controls, generator and project development.

“The club is excellent preparation for the workforce because it provides direct experience working on an engineering and business project,” said Josh Forrest, a senior aerospace engineering major, information sciences and technology minor and president of the Wind Energy Club. “Each aspect of engineering development projects are included in the competition, giving us the opportunity to gain experience in our preferred part of the project. Personally, I have gained valuable experience in a leadership position and developed my team coordination and communication skills.”

Satyam Patel, electrical engineering major and secretary of the Wind Energy Club, said he loves working with a team, especially on a project that contributes to clean energy.

“We have to continuously learn and evolve together to overcome challenges, and this has been especially true this year during the pandemic,” Patel said. “It definitely helps us build the critical thinking and interpersonal skills necessary to be successful in the workforce.”

In addition to this year’s project, the team also was selected to compete as one of 11 teams in the 2022 Wind Competition, which is planned to be held next May at the CLEANPOWER Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas.

Susan Stewart, associate teaching professor of aerospace engineering, is co-adviser of the club. In addition to Forrest and Patel, the competition team includes undergraduate students Mohammed Aal Abdulla, aerospace engineering major; Josh Bannon, aerospace engineering major; Jackie Cheng, electrical engineering major; Eric Folmar, mechanical engineering major; Allison Karp, aerospace engineering major; James Leandri, computer science major; Sara Maholland, geography major; Shreya Manoj, energy engineering major; Rosellen Martin, energy engineering major; Ian McCoy, energy engineering major; Akhilesh Mulgund, aerospace engineering major; Jeremy O’Connor, aerospace engineering major; Alejandro Pardinas, energy engineering major; Dayanch Saparov, energy engineering major; Eric Sarbacker, chemical engineering major; Brianna Shero, energy engineering major and environmental engineering minor; Yuixin “Zoe” Shu, aerospace engineering major; Joseph Snider, aerospace engineering major; Avery Taylor, energy engineering major; and Colin Welch, aerospace engineering major.

The DOE Collegiate Wind Competition is partially funded by the DOE, the Penn State College of Engineering, the Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and the Penn State Sustainability Institute.


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Megan Lakatos