A Green Harvest

The University Harnesses Renewable Wind Energy

It’s a spring renewal of sorts, as the Island University constructs three 20-kilowatt vertical axis wind turbines which help make up the largest installation of this kind in the United States.

In all, three Texas A&M-Corpus Christi locations will showcase a total of 11 wind turbines. 

“The wind turbine project is an exciting opportunity to show how the University is emerging as a leader in renewable energy,” says University President Flavius Killebrew. “This initiative will not only provide students and faculty with excellent learning and research opportunities, but will open doors for future generations who want to pursue this green technology.”   

According to Dr. L.D. Chen, associate dean of Engineering and Computing Sciences, the installed vertical axis wind turbines will enrich students’ learning experiences and encourage innovation in engineering education and research.

“This will provide hands-on opportunities on energy conversion and utilization, data for validation of predictive models, and will stimulate innovations toward optimal wind turbine performance,” Chen says.

Chen adds that Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s wind conditions make the campus an ideal location for such a project.

“Typically, we have high-speed winds in the afternoon, so the wind is in sync with the high power demand the campus experiences during the daytime,” he explains. “At many other locations across the country, the needed high-speed winds occur at night outside of the peak-power demand phase.” 

Dr. Petru Aurelian Simionescu, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering, is one of several faculty members providing technical expertise on the project.  He says that when the project is completed, the University will have the biggest power generation capacity produced with vertical axis wind turbines of any U.S. university.

“Corpus Christi is one of the few cities in the nation to pass an ordinance that allows businesses and private citizens to install wind turbines on their properties, and the University is taking the lead on this,” he says.  

As part of the installation, a small 4-kilowatt campus wind turbine, which is mounted on a tilt-up tower, can be lowered horizontally and opened for inspection and service.   

“We can demonstrate its components more closely for students,” says Simionescu. “They can also conduct measurements of power output, performance, and rotational speeds.”

The power output and wind conditions will be monitored throughout the day. The data will be posted on a website and available to students or others interested in the information.

“We’re testing new ideas to establish a presence in renewable energy, especially wind power,” he says. “Plans are in the works to demonstrate to our students and do research on a variety of sources from wind and solar to geothermal and ocean wave energy.” 

As part of this undertaking, Simionescu is leading students in the design of a 7-foot diameter horizontal axis dual rotor wind turbine. The group is waiting for interested companies to license their invention. 

Research assistant Adam Ersepke, a mechanical engineering major, is involved with the project. After serving in the U.S. Marines Corps, he enrolled at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi in fall 2009.

“I was attracted to the location of the school on the coast, and the new Mechanical Engineering Program,” he says.

Ersepke says that the new vertical axis wind turbines will enhance the Mechanical Engineering program, and help him personally gain knowledge in renewable energy and offshore technology, which interests him.

“It’s usually windy here in Corpus Christi,” he says. “And vertical axis wind turbines are more urban friendly because of their pleasant appearance and less sensitivity to turbulent wind caused by surrounding buildings.” 

 In addition to an array of educational benefits, the wind turbine project will set a shining example of sustainability for the campus and the Coastal Bend region. The harvesting of wind energy for power generation will significantly increase the University’s installed capacity of renewable energy, and greatly reduce its carbon footprint, saving an estimated $18,000 to $25,000 a year in utility costs. The wind turbines will produce an estimated 217,946 kilowatt hours of electricity generated from renewable resources.

 “The 20-kilowatt vertical axis wind turbines that will be installed on campus are the largest of their kind in the continental United States,” says 3eWerks CEO Byron Loftin. “The combined total capacity of 92 kilowatts (of all 11 wind turbines) makes this the largest vertical axis wind turbine installation in the nation.”

The initiative was funded by a $955,000 Distributed Renewable Energy Technology Stimulus Grant from the State Energy Conservation Office with the University matching $265,000 in funds, for a total of $1.2 million for the project.

The wind turbines are distributed by 3eWerks, a green company at the Coastal Bend Business Innovation Center, and manufactured by Urban Green Energy, the world’s leading manufacturer of vertical axis wind turbines.