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Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW team advances to second phase of wind energy competition

WiscWind helps students prepare for careers in wind, renewable energy sectors
Michael Schmich/WiscWind
The 2023 WiscWind Team

A team of University of Wisconsin students is advancing to the second phase of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2023 Collegiate Wind Competition. The team, known as WiscWind, is one of 13 teams advancing to the final competition which will take place in Boulder, Colorado, from May 15-19.

The competition gives students a chance to learn more about careers and opportunities in the wind energy industry. Students work in groups to design and test a wind turbine, plan a hypothetical wind farm and participate in community outreach and engagement, according to overall team lead Michael Schmich.

The Collegiate Wind Competition started in 2014, and UW started participating shortly afterward, staff advisor Scott Williams said. After hearing about the competition, Williams helped find faculty members to serve as advisors and wrote a proposal outlining the resources UW had available to support a team.


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“This competition was a great, practical, educational experience that kind of cuts across different disciplines, which is what we’re all about,” Williams said.

Schmich joined WiscWind four years ago when he was looking for a campus organization focused on renewable energy. He was drawn to WiscWind because of the engineering focus and opportunities for more hands-on experience.

Schmich started on the electrical team, which works with the mechanical team to design and build a wind turbine prototype. The competition judges the turbine on a series of tasks. Schmich initially developed a mechanism which made the turbine blades slow down and stop, something a real-world turbine would need for maintenance tasks. But the electrical team also needs to develop systems to sense wind, speed of the rotor and power coming off the turbine, Schmich said.

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This year the team built two turbines instead of one. In the fall, they decided to scrap last year’s turbine and build one from scratch using sturdier parts, and they’re repeating the process again this spring.

“We gained a lot of experience again during our first semester, and we’re able to just repeat that in a much quicker fashion the second semester,” Schmich said.

A good turbine is efficient and small enough, so it doesn’t resist the wind force, Schmich said. He built a new generator for his senior class project, and it worked well last semester. But the team is working on a smaller, more efficient version.

In addition to the generator, Schmich said the team also needs to optimize the blade shape and ensure the generator and blades are compatible.

In preliminary testing, the new turbine was close to the theoretical maximum amount of power it can extract, and it generated over two times as much power as the winning team last year, Schmich said.

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“We’re excited to test out the competition to see if we can continue that,” Schmich said. “And if nobody else redesigns everything like we did, then we have a pretty good shot.”

While the mechanical and electrical teams build an individual turbine prototype, the project development team drafts plans for a hypothetical wind farm, project development team lead Bailey Fischer said. Every year there are changes to aspects of the project requirements, and this year the team needs to design a hypothetical wind farm off the coast of Louisiana.

Last semester the project development team worked on a report describing the location and preliminary layout of the wind farm, Fischer said. In order to ensure their wind farm produces as much energy as possible, the team analyzed the direction and strength of the wind in the area to make sure the turbines faced the correct direction. They also made sure the farm wasn’t in the way of existing oil and gas infrastructure or common shipping routes.

“This year we’re just able to go more in-depth because we have more people and that definitely shows on our reports,” Fischer said.

This spring the team is focusing on the financial report and expanding the wind farm to produce more power, meaning they need to expand the amount of space the wind farm takes up and the number of turbines the farm will use. Some members will also look at how to mitigate damage from hurricanes and prevent the turbines from killing birds migrating through the area.

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Beyond turbine prototypes and hypothetical wind farms, there is the “Connection and Creation” part of the competition led by outreach team lead Nina Bosnjak. The team hosts outreach events either through presentations or stations at science fair events. They also help run KidWind, a middle and high school version of the competition, which took place March 4 at the Discovery Building.

For the outreach portion of the competition, Bosnjak said the outreach team gives a presentation on all the outreach events, social media metrics, as well as industry interviews.

In addition to outreach events, Bosnjak helps coordinate industry interviews where the whole team can ask people who work in the wind and renewable energy industry questions about their job and career trajectory. These events provide a great opportunity for WiscWind members to make connections in the wind energy industry. Some have gone on to find jobs through the people they met at these events, Bosnjak said.

“I think the ‘Connection and Creation’ contest is more important than someone from the outside would initially realize,” Bosnjak said. “From the outside, the big part of it that people actually look at is the wind turbine prototype, but … I think it’s really valuable to have the community engagement. But aside from that, the industry interviews make a huge difference.”

Schmich said the networking experiences, both through industry interviews and attending the competition, have been a really valuable experience and impacted his career perspectives.

Fischer said he joined WiscWind knowing he was interested in renewable energy and found his experience with the team demonstrates how much he really enjoys renewable energy.

“This club has shown that it’s not a huge industry, but a lot of people are passionate about it, and it’s something I’ve really grown to like and want to do for the rest of my life,” Fischer said.

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