Winds of change

Any VanCougs coming in through the 50th Avenue entrance of campus probably noticed five new additions to the landscape as well as skyline of WSU Vancouver, reaching about 30 feet into the sky. These new wind turbines are a class design project from students in the new series of renewable energy elective courses. These courses seek to blend students from the engineering and computer science department, creating a mixture of students from divergent disciplines bringing them together for interdisciplinary instruction and education. The courses also provide experience and skills needed to find work within the rapidly growing field making use of these technologies. The curriculum began in 2012 after a gift of $250,000 from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust allowed the resources, as well as equipment, to be attained to better provide students an education on renewable energies.

Renewable energy sources consist of any form of power generation that can be constantly collected from any source that can continuously replenish itself over a timeframe; for instance rain, waves, sunlight or geothermal. The concept behind renewable wind, solar and hydropower is fairly old. People have been using wind power in particular for quite some time, such as using windmills to grind down wheat into flour, but it is in the creation and implementation of technologies used to collect the energies where education and innovation are in need. These new elective courses on renewable energy seek to provide students with opportunities to design, fabricate and test not only wind powered technologies, but solar as well. With the skills and knowledge fostered in these courses students will not only be better able to find employment within the field of renewable energies, they will be better able to do their job due to the hands on experience they will have developed in the courses. Steve Solovitz, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering and computer science, hopes the usage of the turbines will be available for many more years to come for the courses. Though this project in particular will not see full scale testing until Apring 2015, the instruction and development will be available each Spring for students in the engineering and computer sciences department at WSU Vancouver.

Solovitz is a part of the team of faculty working to educate students in these new elective courses, particularly in the fundamentals of renewable energy course. This team works to give students not only the know-how of different sustainable methods for creating energy, but also works to give students both the experience of developing these technologies and to be innovative.

This all may beg the question, why is it important for students to be given the education and ability to create sustainable methods of energy? Solovitz explains, “I think in general energy is one of the biggest problems we have as a species let alone anything else, to gain enough energy to meet the demands that are expected in the future will not be possible with the technologies we have today.” The longer that non-renewable energy sources continued to be used and relied upon today, the more problems we create for ourselves in the future when those resources no longer remain.

Students interested in courses concerning renewable energies are encouraged to keep an eye on the course catalogue when registering for Summer and Fall 2014 courses.


Photo Credit: Kelly Schrock







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