Students build renewable power project for organic farm

Students, including some from the oganic farm project, tour the Hopkins
Ridge wind farm near Dayton, Wash.
PULLMAN – WSU’s organic farm wanted a clean power source, so a group of engineering students is providing a wind turbine and solar panels. The project began in the fall, recently broke ground and should be completed by summer.

The farm has worked for several years to expand while retaining environmentally friendly practices, said farm manager Brad Jaeckel. In particular, it was interested in clean power for washers, small tools and computers.

The student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) is building a renewable energy system to provide 500-1,000 watts of power from a wind turbine and 200-500 watts from solar panels. The system will include a bank of batteries, a 600-foot underground cable, data tracking computers and a weather station.

Data from the computers and weather station will be available on the Internet and displayed in WSU’s renewable energy laboratory, said J. Daniel Dolan, professor of civil and environmental engineering and faculty adviser for EWB. Data will show energy demand, potential, and efficiency of the system.

As an educational project, the system will accommodate student and community tours, with signs explaining the project.

“Not only will this project provide clean energy for the organic farm, but it also will provide a valuable teaching tool for students,’’ Dolan said.

The 12 students working on the project also are getting real-world design and building experience, Jaeckel said.

They are learning leadership skills, how to solve sustainability problems, and how to work with funding sources, Dolan said.

The group needed about $15,000 for the project and has received donations from Puget Sound Energy, Avista Corporation, Vestas Americas, the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, ASWSU’s Environmental Task Force, and private individuals.

“Clean energy and environmental sustainability should be priorities here at home and all around the globe,” said Paul Wiegand, senior vice president of power generation for Puget Sound Energy and a WSU graduate. “The (students) certainly deserved my company’s support for devising a project to show how clean energy and sustainable farming practices can be married cost-effectively on a local scale.”

“This project is a great addition to Avista’s portfolio of Clean Energy Test Sites,” said Dave Holmes, manager of research and development for Avista. “It will provide us valuable information concerning small off-grid projects.”

The group of students is working with other local suppliers and companies for the project, including Bill’s Welding and Nolan Heating & Air.

“A more subtle objective is to get the community more involved with WSU and the renewable energy program,” said student and project leader Levi Keene.

“The students working on this are going out of their way to interface with all of the interested parties on campus to give the biggest benefit to everyone involved,” Dolan said. “And that’s exceptional.”

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