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Thursday, April 18, 2024
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Courtesy of Claire Lesnjak / WiscWind

WiscWind breezes through first stage of national competition

This innovative UW-Madison club is making an impact in renewable energy.

 A team of University of Wisconsin-Madison students, WiscWind, will travel to Minneapolis during the CLEANPOWER conference in early May to defend their wind turbine design project against 12 other universities from across the country. 

WiscWind was originally one of 32 teams selected by the U.S. Department of Energy to represent its respective university in the first phase of the 2024 Collegiate Wind Competition, which they breezed through with ease. 

Renewable energy comes in many innovative forms, but wind takes center stage at the annual competition. 

Each student team is tasked with designing, building and testing a small-scale prototype wind turbine. They must also develop a detailed plan for a hypothetical large-scale wind farm while conducting outreach to the surrounding Madison community and wind industry.

According to members, tensions run high as competitors face constraints to the mechanical aspects of the turbine and the location of the hypothetical wind farm. 

“It’s kind of surreal,” WiscWind Project Development Lead Claire Lesnjak said. “Representing UW-Madison is exciting. I love this school, so I want us to do the best that we can”. 

However, WiscWind’s success so far this year hasn’t come without challenges. With so many pieces being worked on simultaneously, WiscWind divides itself into several sub-teams: electrical, mechanical, project development and outreach. 

The electrical and mechanical sub-teams focus on creating and testing the wind turbine prototype, while the project development sub-team researches and creates the plan for the large-scale offshore wind farm. 

Lesnjak notes this helps WiscWind efficiently conquer the required tasks and allows a diverse array of students to participate.

“There can be a lot of people from a lot of different backgrounds and majors all part of this big team,” Lesnjak said. 

The outreach team meets with local industry professionals and promotes the use of wind energy in the community. 

“Increasing education and excitement around wind and sustainable energy is one of the main goals of WiscWind,” said Maggie Kraft, WiscWind co-connection creation lead. “I’m looking forward to the community outreach opportunities we have planned for this semester, including KidWind where we work with youth to design turbines.” 

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Last year’s WiscWind cohort also advanced to the second phase of the competition but fell just short of placing within the top three, with their project development sub-team placing fourth overall. This year, they have their sights on winning the competition. 

“As a team lead, I want my team to do as well as we can and learn from last year’s mistakes,”  Lesnjak said. “I truly think we can [win]. We have some really good designs with our turbine.”

Wind energy is already the largest source of renewable energy in the United States and is only expected to grow in the coming years. According to federal data, the U.S. sourced 6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity from wind in 2000. By  2021, that number jumped to 380 billion kWh, nearly 64 times the 2000 source levels. 

WiscWind encourages students to get involved in the energy field, whether it’s via wind or another renewable energy source.

“I think it’s really important to get involved because it's the future of our energy,” Lesnjak said. “We can’t keep using fossil fuels forever.”

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