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Wind power: School's wind turbine fuels student projects

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A science lab at Lowcountry Preparatory School became a small-scale generating facility this week as six seniors got a firsthand look at how wind energy works.

The students in Chuck Gresham’s environmental science lab made pinwheels that turned on small electric motors as part of a lesson on renewable resources.

With a fan to simulate wind, the pinwheels were mounted on a shaft and connected to a voltmeter so students could see how much electricity they generated.

The experiment was a demonstration of a process that will soon be taking place at the school on a larger scale.

A 1-kilowatt wind turbine that went up at the school over the weekend could be generating electricity by the end of the week, Gresham said.

He took his students outside before their experiment to get a closer look at the turbine and gave an explanation of how it will work.

“The blades are locked right now, because the wiring into the classroom isn’t complete,” Gresham explained.

Once that’s done, minimum wind speeds of 10 miles per hour are all that will be needed to have the turbine making electricity.

An anemometer attached to the turbine will allow students to monitor wind speeds and directions and see how that affects how much energy is produced.

The 1,000 watts the turbine will be capable of generating is about one-third of what is required to power a standard electric iron, Gresham said.

Plans are to use the electricity the turbine creates to power at least one light bulb and a refrigerator. The refrigerator will be a challenge, Gresham said, because it requires constant electricity.

“We’ll see if we can keep it going,” he said.

Students said they were looking forward to seeing the turbine in action. They also said they were surprised by how small it is.

“I think it’s pretty cute,” said David Culliton.

Hannah Ohlinger said she expected the blades to be longer.

The 35-foot turbine, a Zephyr Airdolphin, sits between the school’s main building and gymnasium. It was donated to the school, along with up to two years of educational materials for the school’s environmental studies program, by Natural Energy, a wind energy consulting firm.

J.C. Sutton, a partner in the company, said he hopes the turbine will prove onshore wind is a viable source of renewable energy in South Carolina and will serve as a source of information for the public, in addition to being a science project for the school.

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