Campus Wind Power

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Appstate Wind Turbine
Appstate Wind Turbine

Ten years ago, students at Appalachian State University (ASU) voted to enact a new student fee with the sole purpose of funding renewable energy installations on campus. In 2009, the student-led ASU Renewable Energy Initiate (REI) commissioned its flagship wind installation on the highest and windiest spot on campus. Poised in the background of the football stadium, the highly visible Northwind 100 turbine brought wind energy back to Boone, North Carolina—a town that hosted the experimental 2 megawatt MOD-1 wind turbine in the late 1970s.

At a tower height of 121 feet and a rotor diameter of 69 feet, the 100 kW turbine is the largest wind installation in North Carolina. The turbine feeds into the ASU grid and produces between 100,000 to 115,000 kWh per year. The Northwind was installed by Alteris Renewables, with assistance from ASU electricians and physical plant staff. A local RE installer, Blue Ridge Energy Works, was trained and contracted to perform service and maintenance on the turbine. Student fees contributed $319,800 to the project and the university-owned utility, New River Light and Power, provided the remaining $213,200.

“This is very much a student-led achievement,” says Crystal Simmons, student project manager for the turbine installation, “from the funds raised by the student body to the conversations by REI members about the turbine project.” ASU is home to the 30-year-old Appropriate Technology (AT) program—and students in the program performed the site assessment for the project, and modeled the turbine performance, aesthetic, sound, shadow flicker, and avian impacts.

Installing a real-world project on campus was a learning experience. Annual energy production estimates were based on a wind resource map; on-site measurements were not taken. The result was that annual production was overestimated at 147,000 kWh—nearly 40,000 kWh higher than actual output. The turbine is located in complex terrain, so the impact of turbulence along with an overestimated wind resource are likely factors in the difference. Local contractors respond promptly to issues such as resetting controller faults and maintaining the yaw brakes, which sometimes “squeak” due to the turbulent in-flow conditions on the rotor.

The Northwind 100 is green energy in action, a visual indicator that ASU students, staff, and administration are committed to producing clean, local, RE on campus. ASU continues to collect the $10-per-year student fee earmarked for RE, and the REI continues working at a steady stream of campus projects, including a biodiesel distribution facility to provide fuel for the town’s bus fleet; PV arrays; solar thermal systems for dormitories; solar-powered trash compactors; and an EV charging station. 

Brent Summerville

Comments (3)

Gary Burch's picture

Brent, Thanks for your time responding to my original comment. I appreciate the larger perspective you brought to the discussion beyond the simple payback analysis. I hope the students and community are able to reap the benefits of this project for many years to come as more students are inspired to pursue careers and lifestyles congruent with RE objectives.

Gary Burch's picture

It appears this project provided a great learning experience for all involved. My question concerns the economics of the project. Has there been an economic analysis of this project? If so, please provide a link. It looks like it will take about 46 years at $0.10/kwh to recoup project costs, not including ongoing maintenance and replacement costs. Is this really RE?

summervilleb's picture

Gary. You are correct, at this site, this Northwind 100 generates electricity at a cost of energy greater than the current $0.10/kWh rate. A simple calculation of cost of energy after 20 years is $.23 to $.27/kWh. You can also calculate a simple payback of 46 to 53 years, as you have done, assuming a flat $.10/kWh cost of electricity. YES, this really is RE since we are talking about clean, renewable, locally produced energy.

The ASU students pulled together the funds to install the largest turbine they could afford placed on the highest, windiest spot on campus. The student RE fund stipulated that it must be installed on campus, so other, windier locations were not applicable. The installed cost included a university requirement of a 5-year FULL replacement warranty (which will expire this month); if anything happened during that first 5 years, the turbine would be replaced at no cost to the university. This is a warranty that costs money, but puts the university at ease.

The university community and the whole town is happy with the project since the turbine is nearly always spinning, it produces > 100 MWh annually, and it serves as a very visible example of student-led efforts in sustainability. As the costs of wheeling electricity into this rather isolated mountain community from distant coal and nuke plants rises over the next 20 years, we can be inspired by this small but beautiful local, clean energy being generated everyday right here in our town, thanks to ASU students.

This project wasn't implemented to produce cheap energy; it had a higher purpose. What's the payback on the new Science building? Education and inspiration are invaluable! As Crystal Simmons recently noted as she realized that the turbine has been running for almost 5 years now, "I realize the turbine is more than just a big fan-looking object that puts green energy onto the grid. It is a symbol of our town. Time and time again I hear folks comment about their first sight of it and thinking, "How cool is this town? It must be progressive!""

We love this wind turbine and this town, and we are willing to pay 23 cents!

Thanks for reading the article and commenting, Brent

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