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.