U.S. Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition




​Cal Maritime has been participating in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition annually since the program’s inception in 2013. This program, designed to develop workforce for the fast-growing U.S. wind energy industry, challenges teams of undergraduate students from 12 selected U.S. universities to complete two tasks. The first task—Turbine Design—is to design and build a fully functional, fully automated, small-scale wind turbine to be tested for power production, control and safety under real-world wind conditions in a wind tunnel. The second— Project Development—is to design a large-scale wind project (also known as a “wind farm”) in a real location, including technical planning (turbine selection and siting, electrical connections, roads, etc.), financial planning (financing, land purchasing or leasing, tax incentives, fixed costs, revenue from power purchase agreements, etc.) and consideration of environmental issues (wildlife protection, noise, etc.), permitting, and other policy incentives and challenges. The U.S. Department of Energy selects and funds the 12 teams based on a competitive proposal submission process that occurs on an annual basis. 

Dr. Thomas Nordenholz, a mechanical engineering professor, has been the principal investigator and lead faculty adviser every year since 2013. He also advises the turbine design team. Ryan Storz, an assistant professor of engineering Technology, advises the project development team. The team currently involves about 30 students across five majors (mechanical engineering, marine engineering technology, facilities engineering technology, international business and logistics, and global studies and maritime affairs). Faculty members Evan Chang-Siu (engineering technology), Christine Isakson (international business and logistics), and Katherine Sammler (global studies and maritime affairs) also advise the students in specific areas. 

The solutions that the students develop are different every year, in part to respond to changing requirements. For example, this year, the turbine design is building a wind turbine that will control itself by turning (pitching) its blades into or out of the wind according to wind conditions. In addition, they are designing and building their own electric generator specifically to meet the competition needs. Meanwhile, the project team is choosing a site in southeastern Colorado where the winds are strong, land is potentially available for leasing from ranchers, and a new high-voltage transmission line has been installed. As part of the competition, teams are required to submit reports that are judged by wind energy experts, and these reports are available to the public. The teams also make presentations to the panel of judges. 

The competition is held every year at the American Wind Energy Association Windpower Conference and Exhibition. The Cal Maritime team finished first in 2018, second in 2015, third in 2019 and fourth in 2017. In 2020, the competition was held virtually and Cal Maritime placed first in turbine design and third in project development. More than 50 Cal Maritime students have participated in this program over the past seven years, and several now work in the renewable energy industries.