Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kid Wind 2018 National Challenge

A year ago at this time had anyone asked me about KW (Kid Wind) I would have responded that kilowatts are the units that electrical power is measured in. Then if they would have said no, no I mean the Kid Wind Challenge, I would have guessed that it had something to do with teams of kids building something powered by the wind.

Then EDP Renewables, the company building the Quilt Block wind farm in Darlington, WI sent me to one of Mike Arquin's RE Charge Labs held in Boulder, Colorado for a week of I will call total KW immersion. Five days, forty hours of hands on fun filled learning experiences and experiments using all the materials for KW but also much more. Like solar, hydro, utility grid, vehicle, etc. fun learning activities for K thru 12 classrooms. Plus field trips to Vestas and the NREL to see the real thing.

I was hooked and began a journey that would involve, two local school districts, Darlington and Shullsburg. Four teachers and 20 students forming four KW Challenge teams. With EDP support and Mike Arqiun's help the teams began to design, build and test different blades and gear ratios in the wind tunnels and study their performance. Then redesign, modify and test again. Doing research and applying what they learned to continue to improve and expand their knowledge about wind energy and the design of wind turbines. Along the way I ran a workshop in Madison, WI and a sectional presentation at the WTEA (Wisconsin Technical Education Association) 2018 conference for other teachers to spread the word about KW and KW Challenges.

The four new KW teams competed in a KW Challenge held at the Wisconsin Energy Institute in Madison, WI and based on their knowledge and performance three of the teams qualified to compete in the 2018 National KW Challenge on May 8-10 in Chicago, IL during the AWEA (American Wind Energy Associations Conference). This was a very big deal! As first year teams we had no idea but went to work re-designing and re-building the blades and turbines as we knew our teams would be compeating against teams with more experience from all over the United States.

The logistics of getting three KW teams, coaches and equipment to the McCormick Place in Chicago would be costly and complex. Transportation, lodging, food, some time for fun and the competition. Again EDP Renewables was there supporting the teams and all the work they had done. This really meant a lot to everyone involved to see how EDP Renewables valued what the teams and coaches did.

The teams and coaches were prepared and ready. They were on their own. I was invited to be a part of the staff to help set-up and judge at the 2018 National Challenge. I was going to go from having no idea of what KW was to the National Challenge in less than one year! We started setting up Monday before the challenge on Wednesday. Everything was packed on three pallets.

Four wind tunnels were assembled and tested before the teams started arriving for practice runs. The tunnels ran from a high of 6 m/s to a low of 2 m/s and each team had to run their turbine in all four tunnels for a combined performance rated in joules produced.

One of Darlington's teams waiting to test their turbine.

Another cool thing about KW National Challenge is that at the same time, in the same ballroom the college level wind challenge, sponsored by the AWEA and ran by the Department of Energy is gong on. The middle school and high school Kid Wind'ers get to see the BIG wind tunnels and college teams test their turbines in wind speeds up to 20 m/s. Then if you go across the hall you have over 400 manufacturers of equipment used in the wind energy business. It is set up so the students can see and experience the people and steps one can take on a career path to some job related to wind energy.

A KW Challenge is a lot more than just building a wind turbine and producing some power. There is the Knowledge Test and Team Presentation. The Bonus points and the Instant Challenges. One of my jobs was to judge one of the high school Instant Challenges. The teams had 30 minutes to design and set up a wind farm in the area pictured above. The goal was to design a wind farm that produced the highest power measured in millawatts for the lowest total cost of building it. We had several fans at different heights running at different speeds. Then we placed different sized boxes to simulate the terrain. Teams could use two different sized turbines. Large ones cost $150 and small one cost $100 and the 24" long wires to connect the turbines to the Substation some 10' away cost $15 each. I got a couple of parents from a Darlington team to make a test run to see how it worked before the students tried it. Teams could set up a wind farm, test it and get the 30 second average mw reading. Then they could go back, redesign and test again as many times as they wanted in 30 minutes. The best wind farm value = mw/total cost was the one used for scoring.

So after 2 days of testing, re-testing and instant challenges the 17 high school team and 40 middle school teams from 12 states qualifying for the 2018 KW National Challenge were ready for the results. Considering that this group represents the 57 most knowledgable and skilled KW teams at designing, building and testing wind turbines in the nation where a team places among them is just motivation. If your team places high you will be motivated to up your game next year so as to stay on top. If your team placed low that will motivate you to learn from the experience of other teams you saw and learn more to move your team up the ranks next year. Motivation.



First year, one team ranked 3rd one ranked 5th and another ranked 40th in the nation! It is all about motivation to keep your rank or move up in rank. KW Challenge is one of those educational activities that until you experience it you don't know what you are missing. Once you do experience it you will be saying, "Wow, I want more of this!" When I visit with the Darlington and Shullsburg teams to wrap up the year I hope to challenge them to think over the summer. Every time they see one of the forty-nine 2 MW Vestas turbines on EDP's Quilt Block wind farm as to how they can come back next year and up their game.

Thanks to all the students, coaches, parents, administration, school boards, Kid Wind and EDP Renewables for valuing the KW Challenge.

Remember, "Every year is a good year, some years are just better than others."

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Competition Grade Equipment for KW

Over the past six months I have been working with four local KW (Kid Wind) teams and their coaches to prepare for the up coming National KW Challenge that will be held at the 2018 AWEA (American Wind Energy Association) conference in Chicago, IL on May 8 - 10. In the process I have used the stock KW equipment. This equipment is high quality and well designed to be used in the classroom with all levels of students. Simple and straight to the point. Gets the job done. No muss no fuss.

We started out learning the basics. Designing, building and testing flat blades in the one foot long range with 8:1 gear ratios. Three of the teams performed at a level high enough to be invited to compete in the National KW Challenge. The national level of competition would require a higher level of performance and we are rising to the challenge. Their first turbines were producing 20 Joules of energy and now they are producing 60 J !

In the spirit of learning and promoting KW and RE education here are some of the changes I have made to the original KW equipment that have helped the teams.

Use of 1/4" fiberglass rods for blade spars with 3 locking ring grooves for the first 6" of blade. Eliminated the problem with crushing of wooden dowels and blades not held in place.

Drilled and threaded 6 of the 12 holes in the hubs then fitted them with 6-32 threaded 5/8" long socket head screws. Provided extreme grip and holding of pitch angle set on 23" long blades.

Ground two flats on main shaft hub mount so that it can be held with a 9/16" wrench. This allowed the hub mount to be held while the hub screws were bring loosened/tightened. Also replaced the small Phillips head screw with a 6-32 socket head screw. This provided a much easier and more positive method of holding the hub in place.

Installed 5/16"  O.D. brass tubing to run and support the main shaft in. Also drilled and installed a second brass tube with a 9/64 ball end driver for the second gear shaft. This allowed for building a 32:1 gear ratio. It did require the cutting of the bottom of the nacelle so that the KW generator could be mounted below as shown in the photo.

This shows a close-up of the cut that has to be made to allow the generator mounting piece to fit tight.  
It will also be necessary to reduce the thickness of the 1/4 nuts to 1/8" thickness.

Grease holes were drilled in both ends of all brass tubing. The needle on a 5ml livestock syringe was ground off and silicone grease used to reduce friction on rotating shafts.

Replaced small Phillips head screws with 6 - 32 socket head screw to prevent yaw movement of nacelle during testing in wind tunnel.


Designed a hot wire cutter run by a 12 volt battery charger to cut air foil blade shape out of 1" styrofoam. This air foil shape is then sliced into 1.25" pieces and then re-assembled with a twist as shown in the photo above.

Designed the two rod system that allows you to make a twist that goes from a 45 degree pitch at the root to a 0 degree pitch at the tip of the blade. This photo shows the pieces hot glued back together with the twist. After the spar is glued in the rough edges of the air foil are sanded smooth and covered with iron on plastic lamination material.

Designed a blade pitch setting tool that can be used to set multiple blades to the same pitch using an adjustable depth screw. This is done while the blades are mounted to the hub on the nacelle. Also this allows the 6-32 socket screws to be loosened so that a 2nd, 3rd ... pitch can be made and tested at various wind velocities. The plate is only for testing and data performance collecting. The plate is removed for competition.

Designed and made Nacelle Assemble Stand. This allows students to secure their nacelle to the block and use two hands to place gears and shafts. Check clearance and fit of gears when building up a gear train and adjusting the KW generator to mesh with the gears. The vee groove supports a gear or gear plug when removing a shaft. There is also a 3/32" brass punch and large nut to be used as a hammer if needed. Try putting this all together without this stand and you will appreciate what it does!

So there you have it. I believe in sharing this to promote learning and the KW program. There is more than just watts in the power we are producing. I have all the pictures and details that go along with these changes to the equipment. Email me if you need or want more information or I can be of any help. Hope to see you at the National KW Challenge.