Penn State comes out on top at inaugural DOE Collegiate Wind Competition

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A team of Penn State students nabbed first place at the inaugural U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Collegiate Wind Competition May 5 to 7 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas.

The event was held in conjunction with the American Wind Energy Association's annual WINDPOWER conference.

During the fall and spring semesters, the undergraduate student team designed and built a wind turbine to perform according to their own customized, market data-derived business plan. Over the course of the three-day contest, each team tested a prototype of their turbine in a wind tunnel, presented their business plan and delivered formal presentations demonstrating their knowledge of key market drivers and deployment acceleration opportunities.

More than 150 students from 10 universities across the country competed. The teams were selected from a larger group on the basis of proposals submitted last year.

For Penn State's team, Remote Wind Power Systems Unit (PSU), the competition was almost over before it began.

Susan Stewart, a principal investigator of the project, explained, "We believe the collet became loose during testing, causing the rotor to spin off in the middle of our third and final practice test in the wind tunnel. We only had one backup blade with us, so for a brief moment we thought we were out of the competition."

See the rotor collet mishap and team members' reactions at www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXCRry9sjNY&feature=youtu.be.

The team quickly collected their thoughts and looked into where they could get a new set of blades overnight. Stewart said, "The blades are rapid prototyped and it turned out our original printer, Solid Concepts, has an operation in Los Angeles. They agreed to do a rush order for us, but couldn't ship them in time to make our test window."

Aerospace engineering graduate student Brian Wallace wasn't going to let distance set the team back. Stewart recalled, "He got up at the crack of dawn, rented a car, drove to L.A. and picked them up."

Wallace was able to make the round-trip in eight hours despite yet another hurdle: a bridge that serves as the main highway route between Southern California and Las Vegas had been shut down due to a fire. The team missed their original scheduled test time for the competition, but they were able to test during the make-up period that afternoon.

Ultimately the team was able to regroup to become the top finisher in the market issues presentation category, tie for second in the business plan category, take third in the design review and testing category, and garner first place overall for the highest cumulative score in the competition.

Stewart said, "Of note is that our turbine produced more power than any other turbine."

Remote Wind PSU also received the People's Choice Award, the audience's pick for the best business pitch presentation.

Tom Richard, director of the Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment (PSIEE), said, "Winning both overall and the People's Choice Award says a lot about not only the team's technical excellence, but its many human dimensions: persistence, cooperation, servant leadership and more."

Stewart praised Wallace for his willingness to go beyond the call of duty to ensure the team remained a contender and also as a key adviser to the engineering team. "Brian is most certainly at the heart of this team. He poured his soul into advising many of the test turbine design projects for the team and to his great dismay he missed out on the team’s design review presentation while he was picking up the blades in L.A."

George Lesieutre, department head of aerospace engineering, said, "Hands-on student team design projects and competitions are a hallmark of our curriculum. We’ve been building our wind energy activity over a period of some years, so our students' success is very gratifying — we are proud of what they have accomplished. The cross-college nature of this student team was unusual, but surely central to its success. Susan Stewart's leadership and a Penn State culture of collaboration made that possible, and I think we're likely to see more of it in the future."

Representatives from Vestas, General Electric and the DOE visited the team's booth during the competition. "Hopefully we made some connections that will pay off," said Stewart.

The winning turbine will be displayed in June at the DOE headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Stewart added, "We plan to conduct a demonstration of our turbine on campus for a Sustainability Institute project."

Remote Wind PSU included the following students: aerospace engineering's Chris Cernicky, Sahil Desai, Ty Druce, Steve Flinchbaugh, Ryan Hammerschmitt, Adam Johnson, Kevin Knechtel, Jacob Lampenfield, Greg Liptak, Armstrong Liu, Evan Masters, Ramon Morales, Parth Patel, Mike Popp Gabriel Rosenwald and Grant Schneeberger; broadcast journalism junior Megan Jander; electrical engineering senior Travis He; energy, business and finance senior Bridget Dougherty; energy engineering's Russell Hedrick, Justin Lehrer, Spark Ma, Ken Palamara, Peter Tarantowicz, Kody Veit and Nick Ward; mechanical engineering senior Jeremy Ogorzalek; and public relations senior Katelyn Mixer.

Faculty and researchers who also played a critical role in the team's success include aerospace engineering's Dennis McLaughlin (co-principal investigator), Rick Auhl, Mark Catalano, Mark Maughmer and Sven Schmitz; energy and mineral engineering's Seth Blumsack; Small Business Development Center's Maria Spencer; the Applied Research Laboratory's Frank Archibald (retired); Department of Marketing's Karen Winterich; and Phil Boyer, director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship Program.

Remote Wind PSU was funded in part by the DOE, the Department of Aerospace Engineering, the Roscoe Blyler Fund for Excellence in the College of Engineering, the PSIEE and the Sustainability Institute.

Last Updated May 15, 2014