Teaching teamwork, one wind turbine at a time

WINDPOWER isn’t just home to the industry’s established researchers, innovators, and leaders– it also hosts America’s premier collegiate wind energy competition, fostering the next generation of wind industry innovators, engineers and entrepreneurs. And this year the California State University Maritime Academy took home the crown, coming out on top in the field of a dozen colleges and universities. Penn State came in second, followed by Kansas State University.

Every year, colleges from across the country send their students to the WINDPOWER expo to compete head-to-head. The competition forces students to face the real-world challenges of any wind farm. It is not just building an efficient wind turbine design, but taking into the account the siting, marketing and financing that goes into any wind project.

“The students participating in the Collegiate Wind Competition represent the best and brightest that our nation has to offer,” said Tim Unruh, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power at DOE. “As the U.S. wind industry continues to grow, the Collegiate Wind Competition provides unique, hands-on training and an opportunity to help launch the careers of the next generation of wind energy professionals.”

Students competing from Puerto Rico worked on a hurricane-proof wind turbine. Photo: Daniel Turner

This event helps engineering and business students connect and work together, a surprisingly uncommon occurrence at most universities. Normally, students from different technical backgrounds enter the workforce having spent the majority of their college years only with people within their major.

The Collegiate Wind Competition breaks these barriers, and facilitates conversations these future professionals will have to face every day: How can we market this new wind turbine design? What market barriers exist around the planned wind farm site? How will potential customers finance these projects?

Photo: Daniel Turner

Questions like can’t be approached by business or engineering-minded experts alone. Instead, they need collaboration and discussion. Bethany Straw, one of the organizers of the event and an analyst at NREL, noted these interactions are critical to future business success. “The intradisciplinary nature of the competition is vital because it broadens and deepens the learning experience – there is more to it than designing the ideal component… but involves siting, marketing and financing.”

Winning the Collegiate Wind Energy Competition hinges on one thing: teamwork. Success in business is no different, and learning this lesson early ultimately prepares these college students for their future professional careers in the wind industry. Congratulations to all of the teams that made this year’s competition an exciting success!

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