Sewanee begins wind power research on the Mountain

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Two sets of wind measuring devices, known as anemometers, were installed on Feb. 23 on the radio tower near the old dairy off Brakefield Road.

Marvin Pate, the director of Sewanee’s Office of Sustainability, has spearheaded a year-long project to study the potential for wind power on the Mountain as part of the University’s strategy to cut carbon emissions. Pate worked with representatives from Duck River Electric and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy to install the anemometers, which will measure wind speed and direction and record data averages every 10 minutes for at least one year.

The data gathered in this study will help prove if wind power can serve as a source of clean energy for the community.

“About 85 to 90 percent of our current emissions come from the energy we buy for our buildings,” Pate said. In order to reduce carbon emissions, the University must not only conserve power, but generate sustainable sources of renewable energy. Wind power may provide such an alternative.

“We need to explore the economic feasibility of energy sources other than coal and natural gas,” Pate said.

The current wind research project has its roots in prior initiatives, which stated the University’s commitment to researching new sources of energy. In 2007, Vice-Chancellor Joel Cunningham signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commission, a national agreement among college leaders to use their campuses to help reduce the impact of climate change. In January 2010, the University outlined a plan to conserve energy and research various methods of reducing carbon emissions.

“Sewanee is committed to developing and making public a climate action plan which describes how we will become carbon neutral,” Pate said.

wind measuring installationThe anemometers and equipment were provided free of charge through the Anemometer Loan Program at the Tennessee Valley and Eastern Kentucky Wind Working Group, a project of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. The program provides organizations and businesses with wind measuring equipment to calculate the efficiency of wind power in their area before making an investment. Representatives from Duck River Electric installed the equipment, providing a crane to place anemometers on the tower at specified positions 100 feet and 90 feet above ground. The organizers originally planned to erect a tower specifically for the project, but soon realized they could easily utilize the existing tower at the old dairy.

To acquire the equipment, Pate contacted Katie Stokes, the coordinator of the Tennessee Valley and Eastern Kentucky Wind Working Group.

“The Anemometer Loan program is a tool for communities to research before making investments,” Stokes said. She will analyze the wind data collected over the year to determine if there is enough wind power on the Mountain to warrant investing in a wind turbine. If so, she will help Pate select the appropriately sized turbine to match the amount of power generated. She will also estimate how long it would take to offset the initial cost of the turbines through TVA’s Generation Partners program, which gradually pays back individuals or organizations who invest in renewable energy generators.

The study of wind power in Sewanee is still at its earliest stages of development. Pate pointed out that Sewanee’s terrain generates half the amount of wind power as areas such as the Midwest. The University’s climate action plan predicted that wind power will only provide energy on a small scale.

For now, Pate emphasized the importance of collecting data. He described an accurate understanding of wind velocity and direction on the Domain as “indispensable.” Pate preferred to focus on the research itself, so that the University can determine the economic viability of maintaining wind power on the Mountain. University officials plan to investigate several different sources of renewable energy, but with the implementation of this project, they have taken a significant first step.

Courtesy the Sewanee Mountain Messenger, March 11, 2011

Reported by Christopher Poole, C’11
 

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