Penn State team places first in Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition

Samantha Chavanic
June 24, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An interdisciplinary team of 17 Penn State students recently placed first overall in the 2019 Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition, a contest designed to challenge undergraduate students to create unique solutions to complex wind energy projects. This is Penn State’s fourth victory in the competition in the last six years.

The competition creates real-world experiences for students by asking them to design, build and test a wind turbine and plan and financially analyze a wind plant, an experience Susan Stewart, lead strategic team adviser and associate teaching professor of aerospace engineering, said can’t be replicated in the classroom.

“The real-world scenarios of the project development and finance challenge provide a very enriching educational experience for the students,” she said. “The systems-level perspective in working on the turbine design optimization to achieve the various goals of the competition is a very complicated task that makes them think many steps ahead and work very closely across teams and disciplines. In engineering, the capstone experience may aim for this, but the competition aspect of this experience pushes them very hard to achieve a successful outcome.”

At the competition, student teams presented a unique, wind-driven power system and tested the turbine in an on-site wind tunnel. Stewart said the team is always looking for ways to improve the turbine’s design from year to year. This is done to provide team members, comprised of members of the Wind Energy Club, with new learning opportunities and to carry on the knowledge of the team to future team members.

“In the design-build task, they must communicate effectively across disciplines and work on a very tight timeline,” Stewart said.    

A main focus of the system redesign for 2019 was the turbine’s electrical system. The controller and load were rebuilt to more effectively accomplish the tasks of the 2019 competition.

Efforts also were made to investigate a new blade design, using a different airfoil, a redesigned pitching system, and a different type of servo actuator. The team has a strong core aerodynamic design, but these tasks serve as a great opportunity to transfer knowledge to the next cohort of team members.  

Six students pose with trophies next to a wind turbine blade

Penn State students Mannie Samuels, energy, business and finance; Jeff Horst, energy engineering; Connor Haney, electrical engineering; Adam Proulx, mechanical engineering; Sean Rich, aerospace engineering; and Angela Paul, energy engineering, pose for a photo near a wind turbine blade.

IMAGE: Penn State

“The pitching system analysis was also pursued to try to reduce the energy used by the control system,” said Stewart. “While the team worked on this throughout the year, they did not implement it in their system yet. The electrical aspect of our system is always an area of weakness, and while we have some strong points, like being able to achieve both safety tasks, which stop the turbine, we are still trying to more efficiently control our turbine throughout the wind tunnel test tasks.”

The students also were tasked with conducting a financial analysis for a utility-scale wind farm. In doing so, the competition mimics real-world experiences students will see once they enter the wind-industry workforce.

“The project development task involves gaining project management experience in addition to wind energy-specific knowledge. The teams are stretched to think like they are real project developers, hunting down real numbers rather than looking to textbooks for all of their data. They are walking through and understanding what is really involved in these roles and getting an immersive experience,” Stewart said.

In addition to the team’s first place overall award, the team received first place in the technical design contest for its report and presentation, first place in the turbine design contest, and fourth place for its project development.

“I’m extremely proud of this team, as always,” Stewart said. “This is not an easy challenge, and they continually persevere through tough times and overcome bumps in the road to do their very best. They are a hard-working bunch and always do a great job representing Penn State. We are also thankful for the Department of Energy and NREL (National Renewable Energy Laboratory) for hosting this competition and for the other teams, as we have a great experience participating and getting to know the other participants every year.”

Penn State team members who traveled to the competition include Mannie Samuels, energy, business and finance; Connor Haney, electrical engineering; Adam Proulx, mechanical engineering; Sean Rich, aerospace engineering; Angela Paul, energy engineering; and Jeff Horst, energy engineering. Additional team members include Michael Allan, energy, business and finance; Waliullah Junaid, accounting; Drew Barron, mechanical engineering; Kyle Gladden, mechanical engineering; Bogdan Bordean, mechanical engineering; Sean Wang, aerospace engineering; Pierce Mckelvey, electrical engineering, Ola Akinwale, aerospace engineering; Josh Kaewvichien, aerospace engineering; Shawn Scroger, aerospace engineering; and Chetan Saha, energy engineering.

Additional faculty advisers include Richard Auhl, assistant research professor of aerospace engineering; Sven Schmitz, associate professor of aerospace engineering; Mark Maughmer, professor of aerospace engineering; Nilanjan Ray Chaudhuri, assistant professor of electrical engineering; Michael Pusateri, assistant teaching professor of electrical engineering; Mark Bregar, senior research engineer with ARL; and Frank Archibald, a retired ARL and mechanical engineering faculty member. Numerous Penn State alumni from NextEra Energy Resources provided consultation on the project development aspects of the competition.

The Wind Energy Club is currently preparing to compete in the 2020 competition, which will take place in Denver. If you are interested in becoming involved or want to learn more about AERSP 497-5, a fall 2019 course related to the competition, contact Stewart at sstewart@psu.edu.

To learn more about the Wind Energy Club, visit the club’s website.

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Last Updated June 24, 2019